Novelist travels far, but savors home, too

Natalie Danford a West Boylston native

By Pamela H. Sacks

Natalie Danford laughed as she recalled that in just about every photograph taken of her as a child, she is bent over a book.

Those pictures were, no doubt, prophetic. Danford, who grew up in West Boylston, is not only a reader, she’s a writer.

Her debut novel, “Inheritance,” was published last year by St. Martin’s Press. A reviewer in The New York Times Book Review described Danford as “an old-fashioned storyteller,” and several critics gave “Inheritance” glowing reviews.

“I can’t ever remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer,” Danford said, speaking from her home in Manhattan, which, fittingly, is near the famous Strand bookstore in the East Village.

The paperback version of “Inheritance” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $$13.95) was published earlier this year, and Danford will be at the Leominster Public Library tomorrow evening to discuss her book, a tale set in New York State and Urbino, Italy. The book’s New York setting is a town very much like West Boylston.

“My sister is constantly pointing out all the West Boylston things I included that I wasn’t conscious of,” Danford said.

“Inheritance” is about an Italian-American, Olivia Bonocchio, who finds a key and a 50-year-old deed to a villa in Urbino following her father’s death. She travels to Italy and uncovers secrets about her father as a teenager in Urbino that have to do with the fate of a Jewish family as the Germans bear down.

In choosing to place her story in Italy, Danford did not ignore the time-honored adage, “Write about what you know.”

After graduating from West Boylston High School in 1984, Danford went on to Yale and spent the summer between her junior and senior years studying in Urbino. She moved there after she graduated and stayed a year.

“The food and culture always appealed to me,” Danford said. “I am Jewish, and there is that Italian and Jewish connection – the gathering around the table, reverence for your mother, the strong family ties.”

Indeed, Danford married a native of Urbino, Paolo Pierleoni, who is a translator in New York.

Danford’s work life is diverse. When not working on her second novel, she writes book reviews and freelance articles. She co-edits the annual “Best New American Voices” series. Fluent in Italian, she translates literary works, cookbooks and more mundane publications, such as annual reports.

Danford, 41, said that one of the most enjoyable developments since the publication of “Inheritance,” is the reaction she has gotten from readers. Book clubs often invite her to speak, and she receives messages from fans who visit her Web site,

“I’ve got an e-mail from someone who read the book while in Iraq, and another from a truck driver who has a partner and they read my book to each other,” she said. “When there are people reading and responding, it’s an incredible feeling.”

Danford will return to the Worcester area for the first time in 10 years. She has been invited to speak at the Leominster Public Library by the Leominster Hadassah and the Friends of the Leominster Library.

“I was thrilled to be invited,” she said.