By Tim Parks
Published by Vintage Books
As an Italian who has been living in the UK for several years I have developed an ambiguous relationship with my home country: I have little praise for Italy but will defend it with fervent national pride if foreigners say anything negative about it. Unless the negativity is aimed at the current leadership of the country… but that’s another story.
So, when I decided to read Tim Parks’s Italian Neighbours – An Englishmen in Verona as part of the Italy in Books reading challenge 2011, I thought that I’d have to sigh and tut frequently at all the clichés I was sure to find. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I grinned, I chuckled, I laughed out loud and not one single frown crossed my face.
In Italian Neighbours we follow the writer and his wife during the difficult months of being the new people in town, which in this case is an Italian village nestled among the hills of the beautiful Veneto region. A witty and inquisitive observer, Parks’s descriptions of people and places are a pleasure to read and wonderfully evocative.
The characters that populate the pages of this book – from the local greengrocer to the lady who every morning sweeps the street in front of her house with a twig broom – are vividly portrayed. They are not caricatures but I am sure that anyone who grew up in a village with strong ties to its rural past will know someone just like that. I know I do!
Tim Parks does not offer an idyllic picture of Italy but certainly an endearing one, even when talking about potentially inflammatory topics such as public sector employees, taxes and private healthcare, which, in a different kind of book, would be at the centre of heated discussions.
A sort of survival manual, Italian Neighbours is an excellent read for both people who don’t know the country that well and for those who think they know it inside out.