22 November 1998

Book Review: "Italian Neighbors", by Tim Parks, *****


In this deliciously seductive account of an Italian neighborhood with a statue of the Virgin at one end of the street, a derelict bottle factory at the other, and a wealth of exotic flora and fauna in between, acclaimed novelist Tim Parks celebrates ten years of living with his wife, Rita, in Verona, Italy.

More than a travel book, Italian Neighbors is a sparkling, witty, beautifully observed tale of how the most curious people and places gradually assume the familiarity of home. Selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Italian Neighbors is a rare work that manages to be both a portrait and an invitation for everyone who has ever dreamed about Italy.

Tim Parks, unlike many other English authors who always keep aloof from the countries they live in, truly became integrated in Italian society. His family is Italian, he speaks the language perfectly and can understand it inside out... at least as much as any Italian. There is no smugness here, no superiority complex. Yet, he is able to maintain that cool-headed approach to description that only outsiders can enjoy when describing a complex society like that of Italy. As an Italian I find he does a better job than most Italian writers in describing us!

He is so part of Italy that, again as an Italian, I do not take offence when he makes fun of us! Because he is accurate, perceptive, and he loves the country. He tells it how it is, this is indeed how we live in Italy, beyond the stereotypes, with our bureaucracy, our immigrants (things have gotten more complicated since he wrote this book), our big and little manias...

The book was writen quite a few years ago, I read it in 1998, but as i re read it today I feel it is not out of date at all! So buy it by all means and get a good look deep into our country! Or at least Verona and the Venetia region, one of the richest and most advanced of all. It would, of course, have been a very different book had he lived in Rome or in the South!

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