The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit by Helena Attlee - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

Citron Impressé

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

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Goethe’s ‘The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister’, a neglected masterpiece if ever there was, is known nowadays for a single line from a ballad sung by Mignon, the daughter of a wandering musician. ‘Know’st thou the land where the lemon trees bloom?’ begins her mysterious song, describing an imagined world of blue skies, marble statues and thunderous waterfalls, not without a lurking menace beneath its beauty. When Wilhelm asks her where she heard it, Mignon answers, ‘Italy! If thou go to Italy, take me along with thee; for I am too cold here.’

Goethe’s verses encapsulate the romantic hankering for what Browning hailed as ‘the land of lands’ and Forster identified as ‘a place that’s upset people since the beginning of the world’. Citrus fruit, as Helena Attlee clearly understands, is the ultimate metaphor for Italy as an object of desire among us

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