Saturday, 25 June 2011

Book review: Italian Neighbours

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.

4 comments:

Jeane said...

Silvia, I read this one too (don't remember while living in Italy or just left). I had the exact same feeling. I thought I would get annoyed by all th cliches but was compleetely wrong. Me too, I laughed, was saying how true it is or would finish in my head how something he was writing about would finish. I loved the book, it was so great to read it. As you know I have a lot of praise for Italy, would defend it with a patriotism that I don't feel for my own country and completely can't say a any good thing about the present leadership but in the end, I loved it and became sad ... for the reason you will know. I read this book and the one where he follows the Chievo tofosi, but would love to read more of his books.

Kimberly Menozzi said...

His novels are equally amazing - and his non-fiction is leaps and bounds above the rest. If you get a chance, read "An Italian Education", too! Loads of insight to the educational system in Italy - and so far, I've seen so much of it proven true in the experiences of my sister-in-law and her family.

Kathy from Food Lover's Odyssey said...

I've passed this book several times in the store, but never bought it (don't know exactly why). I'm on my way to the bookstore right now to get it. Thanks.

Pierce said...

This one is on my reading list so i am happy to hear of such a positive review.