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The Amazon Book Review
Introducing The Amazon Book Review, our editors' fresh new blog featuring interviews with authors, book reviews, quirky essays on book trends, and regular columns by our editors. Explore now
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2013: The premise sounds far-fetched, even a little silly: While proofreading a deli catalog in Michigan, Michael Paterniti is bewitched by a description of cave-aged Spanish cheese; years later, disillusioned with modern life and his own “computer-soft hands,” he travels to its Spanish back-country source, where he becomes obsessed with its larger-than-life maker and his story of soul-stealing cheese-related betrayal. But don’t get too cynical (or annoyed by the sprawling footnotes) too fast, or you’ll miss the earth-stained magic of this story. Yes, Paterniti can be a hyperbolic virtuoso, “given to tilting the most quotidian events into a Viking epic”--or a Castillian tragedy. He even opens with this quote from Pascal: “Imagination magnifies small objects with fantastic exaggeration until they fill our soul.” But these “small objects,” en masse, do become soul-filling until Paterniti’s life-altering epiphany in a moonlit field of sunflowers seems like an essential human experience. This transportive culinary memoir will launch a thousand gastronomical pilgrimages. --Mari Malcolm
Working at renowned Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Paterniti discovered a fabulously tasty Spanish sheep’s milk cheese unlike any other. A writer by trade, Paterniti found himself fascinated by this cheese, and he embarked on a quest to find its birthplace in Castile, a small town some distance from Madrid. There he met a hulking man with a fondness for storytelling. Since Paterniti already had a predilection for tales, he became utterly entranced with this cheese-making Spaniard, Ambrosio Molinas de las Heras, who had won numerous awards and garnered kudos even from Fidel Castro. But by the time Paterniti reached him, Molinas had shut down production. Molinas’ entrepreneurial naïveté and betrayal by a business partner had bankrupted the fledgling company. Paterniti’s detailed narrative overflows into long, digressive footnotes, but the story of dashed hopes will resonate with lovers of cheese and of rural Spanish life. --Mark Knoblauch
A couple of chapters into this book, I was asking myself, "How have I never heard of this writer before?" And before even finishing the book, I was ordering is previous work (Driving Mr. Albert) simply because I didn't want this book to end. This is a masterpiece, on a level with Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air or Richard Preston's The Hot Zone, in which it doesn't matter that you had no previous interest in Mount Everest or biological warfare, or in this case, Spanish cheese.
Paterniti takes a more or less simple story of a farmer in Spain who creates a fantastic cheese and then, through mismanagement, loses the company he has built, and turns it into a reflection on how life is to be lived, how it feels to be a young father, what is worth living for, how time changes, and yet doesn't change, everything. He has a huge man-crush on this guy whose language he doesn't even speak at first, and he manages to spend so much time with him that he falls completely under his spell, bringing his wife and kids not once but twice, to spend weeks in a dessicated village in Spain.
Life in the village of Guzman is everything that life in modern America is not. People spend their time in rooms that Paterniti calls Telling Rooms, caves, actually out on the hillside, where wine flows freely (wine they themselves have made) and food is shared lovingly with friend and stranger alike. No "stranger danger" here, no hours spent before screens "chatting" electronically with disembodied strangers. This is life as it has been for centuries. And yet, it is also real, not a stage-setting put on for the benefit of lost americanos who always go home to their clothes driers and air conditioners and ipads.Read more ›
The first 40 pages of this book did me in. I almost just tossed it. But it finally started picking up and getting to the actual story.
There are two things I don't like about this book. The first is, the author uses way too many adjectives and similes, etc., for my taste. The unusual part though, is that sometimes he uses them, and other times he doesn't have any at all. (Once he gets into the actual story, there aren't nearly as many.)
The second is, he has far too much information that doesn't apply to the story. He includes things about his personal life and family, and lots of other side items that aren't pertinent to the story. I WILL say though that many of the things he does puts in footnotes, so it's easy to skip over them. Some of them are actually good stories and worth the read. But I really think this book could have been shorter and more on point, and I would have enjoyed it more (I would have given it a 5 then.)
Now for the story. The story was WONDERFUL. It pulled me right in (when he got to it) and kept me going. Ambrosio was larger than life, and the small Castilian town he lived in sounded like a really nice, old-world place. The story of the cheese was just spectacular. The author was really drawn into this, and I can understand why.
Ambrosio was definitely bigger than life (I picture him as looking just like Eli Wallach) and he didn't do anything by halves. I want to say more about him, but I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't read it yet.
This book is definitely worth a read, and seems very heartfelt by both the author and the participants in the story.
[For those who have already read the book---I LOVED the author's story of his special trip to Mon Virgo.Read more ›
I am a 14 year old girl, and I am writing this review to say that even teenagers can love and treasure this book the way I have. Normally avoiding nonfiction of any kind I was apprehensive to say the least. But as I started this heartfelt story I was pleasantly surprised to find that in fact it rated just as well as the beloved fantasy I avidly read. The writing is optimistic and endearing and I was thoroughly enraptured in this fabulous tale of cheese (who knew cheese could be exciting!?) I loved the shifting narrative between Paterniti's life and his hero's, Ambrosio. A strong ending, interesting footnotes, and Paterniti's voice make this truly a wonderful read for all ages.
The book is described as part travel narrative, part food essay, part family drama. So far, so good. Then there's the "magical cheese." A little odd, but there are definite possibilities, story-wise. Once I started reading the book, I found it was also the author's story, the tale of a young MFA student struggling to be the best darned Writer ever.
The overwrought prose kept getting in the way of the story. A few times, the author even mocked himself about this -- "...put the finishing touches on another one of my overheated homing pigeons of prose..." Page after page went by and still, there was no story. I skipped ahead. Now it was about the author's contract with his publisher and his failure to meet deadlines. Year after year passed. I skipped ahead. He finally made it to the tiny village in Spain, home of the possibly mythical magical cheese. No detail was too small to include in this slowly evolving story. Often, Paterniti recognized that the details were slowing the story to a crawl, and relegated them to footnotes. There are many footnotes.
A book ten years in the making, The Telling Room is a letdown, and I could not find the patience to keep at it. It was so many things that in the end, it was none of them. Instead of chipping away at the block of marble cheese to find the perfect form hiding inside, Paterniti slapped more and more plaster, paint, and spare parts onto it until it became a hideous hybrid. Now how's THAT for overheated prose?