By Tim Parks
Published by Vintage Books
Earlier in the year I read and reviewed Tim Park’s Italian Neighbours, where the British author recounted with wit and humour the first steps of his new life in Italy. An Italian Education follows up on Park’s experiences in the land of la dolce vita and is as successful as its predecessor.
The book opens with the writer and his wife in the process of buying a flat in the surroundings of Verona and having their first baby. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in Italy or how long you’ve been paying taxes for: this is what makes you accepted! Buying a house and having a baby means that you’re not going to leave any time soon!
As Parks demonstrates with his funny observations and sharp remarks, Italy is a country where kids rule. They are pampered and made to feel like they’re the only ones who count in the world – by parents, relatives and strangers alike! At the same time, having a family (the hilariously-described concept of tenere famiglia) will provide excellent excuses for misbehaving and cause financial struggles, aka i sacrifici.
As Parks writes on his website, this book is “about how kids grow up in Italy, about how they become Italians, since clearly nationality isn’t a genetic thing, but a sort of general conditioning, a group destiny”. It is about school, grandparents, summer holidays and all those exquisite idiosyncrasies that make Italians Italian!
Like Italian Neighbours, An Italian Education is not a sentimental ode to il Bel Paese. As a British man living in Italy, Parks is able to see Italian society with a critical but affectionate eye, which will teach a thing or two to foreigners and Italians alike.