Title: Ristorante Paradiso
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Signature
May Contain Spoilers
A charming tale of a mother/daughter reunion, a burgeoning romance, and a little restaurant in Rome. In exchange for playing "the daughter of an old friend," Olga offers Nicoletta a place to live and an apprenticeship at the restaurant. Nicoletta fits in well among the vibrant personalities at Casetta Dell’Orso. She gets along particularly well with the kindly headwaiter, Claudio, a divorced man who, after years, has still never taken off his wedding ring. As Nicoletta’s feelings for Claudio become complicated, she finds a sympathetic ear in Olga, leading the estranged pair to form a friendship neither expected. But as they grow closer, the pressure exerted by the secret they share becomes too much to bear.
Nicoletta arrives in Rome to let her mother, Olga, know what she thinks of her. Abandoned as a child so her mother could pursue her destiny, Nicoletta was left to be raised by her grandparents. She’s only seen her mother a few times, and their relationship is chilly and distant. It rankles Nicoletta that she was left behind while her mother sought her happiness, and I can’t say that I don’t blame her. Olga was worried that her new husband would flip if he discovered that she had a daughter, so Nicoletta was left behind.
This is another book that took me completely by surprise. The art is deceptive, because at first glance it doesn’t look like much. The line work is plain and kind of scribbly, giving it an almost unrefined and unfinished feel. Once you get into the story, however, the art zings with life and personality. Subtle lines convey a wealth of information, telegraphing a range of emotions with restrained clarity.
Nicoletta has a chip on her shoulder the size of Italy, but it’s hard to find fault with her attitude towards her mother. She’s been dumped by the one person she expected to be with her forever. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if my mom handed me off to my grandparents so she could live out her dreams. Without me. Denying that I even existed. Ouch! That is brutal!
The relationship between mother and daughter gives the book its edge. As they get to know each other, all the while keeping their true relationship a secret, it’s had to not get caught up in the tension. I wondered how Nicoletta could ever forgive Olga, and then I started to wonder how Olga could forgive herself. As the two women try to work through their feelings for each other, they also interact with the wait staff at the restaurant. This story is all character-driven, and the emotions that are slowly revealed captivate and entertain. The action is quiet and subdued, but enthralling none the less.
If I have one complaint about the book, it is that sometimes it was difficult to tell some of the characters apart. All of those older, distinguished gentlemen with their spectacles occasionally blended and blurred together. There isn’t much detail to the art, and there were a few instances where I found myself confusing one character for another.
Ristorante Paradiso takes a compelling look at the reconciliation between a mother and the daughter she’s left behind. Deep and emotionally satisfying, the book packs a wealth of feelings and tensions between its glossy cover.
Review copy provided by Viz