PINECREST TRIBUNE / Page 18 / July 16 – 29, 2001
Did “yew” know about this Pinecrest author?
WITH ROBIN KASKEL POLSKY
We have a famous writer living amongst us. Yes, right here in Pinecrest. His name is Guido Mina di Sospiro and he lives with his wife Stenie — who he says is “a woman of many talents” — and three sons, ages 15, 12 and 10.
Stenie e-mailed me about her husband’s latest novel and coincidentally I remembered her from my earlier days at Pinecrest Elementary School. I admiringly recalled Stenie as a true individual with European elegance, and that she was always lovely to talk to and dressed with a unique flair.
Stenie and Guido had just returned from a three-week promotional tour for his newest novel The Story of Yew and were attending an event at Books & Books. She asked if I would like to cover it for the Pinecrest Tribune.
My son was having his tonsils and adenoids removed early the following morning, so I had to decline the invitation. But I was fortunate enough to meet Guido in his Pinecrest home and see the space where he had actually written this and approximately 10 other books over the last 12 years.
I entered the di Sospiro home and Guido led me to his study. The writing room is both hurricane-proof and soundproof, from which he “can’t see any houses or cars.” He says it is made of wood and has a good spirit.
“I really love this place,” he told me. “We bought our home here in Pinecrest because of the abundant oak, fruit and mango trees on the property.”
Here, Guido penned his novel The Story of Yew, a first-person narrative about the life of a female Yew tree. The 2,000-year-old “Yewess” assumes a life of its own while telling a story about the relationship between man and nature.
In The Story of Yew, there is a passage where a mother yew reassures her baby yew about a hungry deer that was coming close.
“Don’t fear, darling. You are in no danger. No harm will come from four-legged animals; they know better than to eat our leaves.”
“And why is that, mother?”
“Our leaves are poisonous to them and so is our bark.”
Guido spent 12 years delving into the health and growth of the Yew tree, traveling and consulting botanists and naturalists around the world.
“I wanted to learn and think as a Yew tree,” Guido said.
Did you know that Yew trees are one of the oldest living organisms (over 250 million years old), can engage in chemical warfare and are either of the male or female gender?
The fairy-tale like story about the Yew tree is deeply rooted in Guido’s childhood, the seed planted while growing up during summers on his grandmother’s Victorian home on Lake Como in Italy.
“It was a magical place with huge trees everywhere on the property,” Guido reminisced.
One day a young English girl visited their home and went about identifying all the trees. “I remember it clearly,” said Guido. “She made a pun on yew and you.”
This event triggered Guido’s fascination and he began to study all the trees on the land, especially the Plane Tree, so large it took 11 people to encircle its trunk.
“I believe I have created a new genre; never before has a story been written about a tree in the first person,” said Guido.
“Certainly, it is unusual to focus on a tree, something that is static, rather than a moving person or an animal. It is the zoos that are always packed, not the botanical gardens.”
Guido has painstakingly consulted and studied with the world’s leading botanists and naturalists to give the Yew accurate characteristics. Highly toxic, the Yew can symbolize death or help give life from extracting its taxol, a drug used to retard ovarian cancer.
The Yew served as an altar for Druid worship; in churchyards, there were always two Yews, symbols of immortality. According to Guido, “the Yew had a decisive effect on the course of history … trees give an insight of what life is like year after year, the ups and downs, century by century.”
I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book yet. Guido told me that his novel has been compared to classics like Watership Down and Le Petite Prince, but knew a story told by a tree might be a tough sell. So he did his marketing homework before handing his manuscript over to the publisher, Findhorn Press. Cover and illustrations are by Ernesto Pescini.
The Story of Yew has received rave reviews all over the world, most recently embraced by The Miami Herald and Books & Books’ Mitchell Kaplan, who hosted a packed review at his beautiful new book emporium in the Gables (Guido admiringly calls it a “bastion of culture”), complete with a café and delicious fare.
Already working on another novel The Wounded King, Guido is ready to embark on his family’s annual summer pilgrimage to Italy. In his spare time, Guido loves to play ping-pong, a self-described fixation.
After I left the two-hour interview, I felt blown away by this man’s knowledge and passion for nature and mankind in general.
How neat, I thought, that Guido felt inspired to write The Story of Yew here in Pinecrest.
I began to think about and look at trees in a whole new light. Maybe we can really learn something from the natural beauty that surrounds us. It’s really up to you.