A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK
A poignant and transporting cross-cultural love story set against the lush backdrop of the Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hour.
It was love at first sight when Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman, an actress no less. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forges on. They build a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopt at birth. Eventually, they reconcile with Saro’s family just as he faces a formidable cancer that will consume all their dreams.
From Scratch chronicles three summers Tembi spends in Sicily with her daughter, Zoela, as she begins to piece together a life without her husband in his tiny hometown hamlet of farmers. Where once Tembi was estranged from Saro’s family and his origins, now she finds solace and nourishment—literally and spiritually—at her mother in law’s table. In the Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing gifts of simple fresh food, the embrace of a close knit community, and timeless traditions and wisdom that light a path forward. All along the way she reflects on her and Saro’s incredible romance—an indelible love story that leaps off the pages.
In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. Her story is about loss, but it’s really about love found. Her story is about travel, but it’s really about finding a home. It is about food, but it’s really about chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and needed a powerful reminder that life is…delicious.
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This reading group guide forFrom Scratchincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tembi Locke. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When Tembi Locke, an aspiring actress from East Texas, meets Saro Gullo, a Sicilian chef, while studying abroad in Florence, their connection is immediate. His family, however, is slow to accept an African-American woman into their family. Decades later, Tembi and Saro have forged a life, a family, and successful careers in Los Angeles—then Saro succumbs to a lengthy battle with cancer. Consumed by grief, Tembi and her daughter spend the next three summers in Sicily with Saro’s mother, seeking solace, nourishment, and a new definition of home.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss how the book’s structure shapes your understanding of Tembi’s story. How do the flashbacks inform her emotional journey as a widow? Why do you think she chose to write her memoir in this way?
2. Tembi acknowledges that her decision to travel to Sicily so soon after Saro’s death goes against conventional wisdom. Why do you think she decides to go? If you were in her shoes, would you have done the same?
3. How does Nonna and Tembi’s relationship evolve over the three summers depicted in the book? What are the major turning points that bring them closer?
4. Did your impression of Nonna change while you were reading? Why or why not?
5. Does From Scratch reinforce or challenge any preconceptions you may have had about rural Sicilian life?
6. Tembi uses food and cooking throughout the book as symbolism for grief, healing, and resilience, from “cooking is about surrender,” (p. 69) to “life was separating my curd from my whey,” (p. 222). What was your favorite passage using this motif?
7. The facilitator at the adoption agency tells Locke that “at the heart of adoption is this love and this loss, all at once. Your daughter will know this feeling one day. It is the realization that she had to say good-bye in order to say hello. That that is how your love as a family came to be,” (p. 130). How do these words garner new meaning for Tembi and Zoela after Saro’s death?
8. How does Zoela both comfort and challenge Tembi after Saro’s death? Did Tembi’s description of parenting through grief surprise you in any way?
9. The Sicilian landscape—Tembi’s “stone inheritance”—is a character in its own right in this memoir. Discuss how the natural surroundings both reflect and contradict her emotions at various points in her story.
10. In her quest to find belonging within Saro’s family and in Aliminusa, Tembi must navigate barriers of language, race, and class. Discuss the moments where she feels most like an outsider, and the ways in which she is able to find mutual understanding and respect despite seemingly insurmountable differences.
11. Reread the passage that begins with Locke’s realization on page 239: “I had had three marriages to Saro: the one we had experienced as newly-in-love married people; the one we had spent in the trenches of surviving cancer; and the one I had with him now, as his widow.” What do you make of this statement and her reflections on the passage of time that follow?
12. How does Tembi’s definition of “home” evolve throughout the course of the memoir?
13. Discuss the significance of the book’s title. In what ways does Tembi start her life “from scratch,” and in what ways is she building off a preexisting foundation?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Host a potluck using the recipes in From Scratch. (Be sure to come hungry!)
2. Tembi finds comfort in the poetry of Rumi during Saro’s illness and after his death. Have each member of your book club choose a Rumi poem to read to the group and discuss why the poems resonated with them.
3. Cast your film version of From Scratch. Which actors would you want to play the main characters, and why?
4. Learn more about Tembi Locke by checking out www.tembilocke.com or following her on Instagram @tembilocke.
A Conversation with Tembi Locke
What was your inspiration for turning your story into a memoir?
This story had been swelling in my heart for years. Some of it even before Saro passed. I understood that there were aspects of our love story that were rare and beautiful. However, three years after his passing I was seated in Sicily with Zoela and across from us was Nonna. We were at the dinner table at the end of what had been like the perfect summer day. And I had a thought: How did we get here, especially given where we started AND given that the only person connecting us is gone? That question felt like the makings of a book. Yet it was another two years, actually the fifth anniversary of his passing, before I felt ready to write it. I needed to build up my bravery to tell the story.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
I keep notes, I journal, and I use photographs and music to jump-start a writing session. I write in both spurts and longer periods of time, but rarely more than three hours of continuous writing at once. For me, small is big. Meaning short sessions often add up to a large output. And I write anywhere and everywhere. Seriously. I wish I could say I have a fixed place and set time, but my life doesn't look like that. I’ve written in parking lots. HA! However, occasionally I will go away for two-to-three days at a time, just me, and do a deep dive into the story. Those times are my favorite and keep me feeling sane as I work to finish a complete draft.
Did writing your memoir change your perspective on your past in any way?
I have realized that anytime we write about an experience, it changes our memory of the experience. In writing From Scratch, I had to make sense of events and experiences that I once saw as separate. Drawing a line from one set of events to another, I saw connections that were previously hidden to me. Writing the book gave me the gift of perspective.
What was the most challenging section to write, and why?
There were challenging aspects to reconstructing my past on the page—the emotional journey of revisiting and then making sense of aspects of my experience that still needed exploring before I could share. Both of those challenges played out when I had to write about my final days with Saro and the first time I traveled to Sicily without him. I had to give myself permission and then summon the bravery to emotionally revisit it all. In the end, I am glad I did.
Did you write for a certain audience, or does an imagined reader not play a role in your writing process?
I wrote this book as a love letter to my daughter. In that sense, I always had her in my mind as a future reader. Also, at times, I felt like I was in conversation with Saro as I wrote. But often, I was writing for people who have shared great loss, been caregivers, or who are curious about what makes a great love great. Again, I felt those life experiences might one day be central in my daughter’s life. Of course, I also wanted to write for anyone who has never been to Sicily. I wanted to take them to my favorite island in the Mediterranean.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
Louise Erdrich, Cheryl Strayed, Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Zadie Smith, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin, and, personally, my sister Attica.
If you could choose one lesson or message for readers to take away from your book, what would it be?
If I had to choose only one (which is hard), I would say to activate a brave heart in how we love and how we connect.
Has your experience as an actor shaped your writing?
A career as a professional actor teaches you about two things: process and failure. Those are two things that are also part of a writer’s experience. As an actor, I have learned to get comfortable with discomfort, creatively and professionally. When I write, I know there will be whole days of just sitting and processing the story. There will be whole days’ worth of work that will get thrown out. But still, as a writer you show up—open-hearted, curious, and bringing your full creativity to that day's work knowing that it will add up to something you can’t fully see yet.
Also, being an actor makes me inexhaustibly curious about human behavior, motivations, secrets, shadows, and aspirations. Actors mine the deep parts of the human heart. As a writer, I try to bring all that training to the page. I also want to write compelling scenes wherein the details of place, character, and dialogue meet a given circumstance and something slightly unexpected happens. Acting trained me for that.
What is your favorite recipe in the book?
That's like asking me to pick a favorite friend. I love them all. However, I will say the one you can find most often in my house is the classic Sicilian tomato sauce. When in doubt, a plate of pasta will do you good.
What are you working on next?
I am working on another book. The idea for it began with a family photo and a provocative, unanswerable question. Set largely in Texas, it explores a "truth" my family held for generations. Yet, I stumbled across information that forever changed that story. As the book unfolds, the discovery brings lasting reverberations for me as a daughter and mother. I hope it is for anyone curious about how the distant past, historical and personal, holds vital inspiration for our present.
Tembi Locke is an accomplished actor who has appeared in over sixty television shows and films, including The Magicians, NCIS: LA, Animal Kingdom, and Dumb and Dumber To. She is also a TEDx speaker. Her talk, What Forty Steps Taught Me About Love and Grief, traces her journey as a cancer caregiver. She is the creative voice behind The Kitchen Widow, an online grief support community that has received mentions in The New York Times and The Guardian. The author of From Scratch, she lives in Los Angeles with her young daughter, but can be found each summer on the island of Sicily.
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