Venetian Spritzes and Austrian Bastards

This week I’m reviewing Andrew Molesini’s award-winning novel “Not all Bastards are from Vienna” set in the Italian countryside during WWI. When I think of rural Italy, I envision bucolic, golden fields, endless vines, and leisurely drinking. Searching for a warm weather Italian cocktail to sip outdoors during a recent warm spell, I came upon the Venetian Spritz, a “style” of drinking popular along the Mediterranean involving something sparkling, bitter, and served before dinner.

Want to know more about spritzes? Well you’re in luck, because a couple of noted booze writers thought so much of the drink they wrote a whole book about it! Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau became so enamored with the #spritzlife that the penned a book celebrating the drink and the rules governing its consumption. My favorite: “this is a drink that is consumed when the day is waning, and the night is young.”

Upon tasting, the spritz lived up to Baiocchi and Pariseau’s book-length praise, offering a wonderfully fresh, poppy, and slightly bitter taste perfect for warm weather drinking. I actually let the orange and lemon slice soak a bit and I think it added a really nice citrus sensation on the edges. And that look, that electric red, will certainly evoke a few oohs and aahs from your guests. Loved these, and can’t wait to make them once the mercury cracks 80.

Venetian Spritz

  • 1.5 oz Amaro
  • 3 oz prosecco
  • Fill with sparkling water
  • Add lemon and orange slice

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I was reading the New York Times’ positive review of “Not All Bastards Are From Vienna” and paused at this line, characterizing the book as “not a deep novel, but…wonderfully alive…” I’d have to disagree – behind the straightforward narrative, I found Molesini’s novel to be a compelling, dark, and layered portrait of inhumanity. The story of the Spadas, a minor noble family in a small Italian town, the tale starts in a place of beauty, detailing the lush, natural splendor and quaint society of the pre-war era. The narrative eerily and rapidly degenerates, however, as German and Austrian forces sweep in and occupy the region.

I found the brutal collapse of the world that came before particularly compelling, and Molesini is extremely effective subtly weaving that message into the story’s events. Characters abandon their once deeply-held morals and the structures of civilization erode rapidly. It’s made more disconcerting as observed through the eyes of teenager Paolo, whose innocence is quickly dashed as violence and deprivation overwhelm. His story culminates in horror as the characters realize the world they knew before, rooted in decency and honor, has been washed away by a tide of reactionary violence. “Not All Bastards Are From Vienna” is an extremely compelling portrait of societal decay and people incapable of resisting it.

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