Kostioukovitch, Umberto Eco's Russian translator, seems an unlikely source for a volume that feels like an instant Italian food and food history classic, but she's lived in Italy for 20 years and brings a nonnative's eye and taste to a fairly comprehensive gastronomical project. “Structured as an imaginary journey from region to region, north to south,” the book opens with a chapter on Friuli Venezia Giulia and proceeds down the peninsula from one region to the next. Each chapter takes a more or less similar approach, leisurely discussing the respective region in a variety of terms from history to geography and culture; sooner, as with the chapter on Puglia, or later, as with Lazio/Rome, food becomes the paramount topic. Though the book is “absolutely not about wine,” the author deftly touches on matters like the history of Campari and Frascati. Though there are no recipes, there are helpful sidebars that list dishes, products and beverages typical of each region, and in between are chapters on subjects pertinent to Italy's food and identity. Some, such as olive oil and pasta, are to be expected, while others are organized around topics like pilgrims, joy or larger themes like the impact of the Americas or totalitarianism; all are full of the sort of well-researched literary arcana and cross-cultural connections that enrich the entire book. (Oct.)