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Italian Neighbors: Or, A Lapsed Anglo-Saxon in Verona Paperback – June 1, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
A 10-year resident of a village close to Verona, British-born novelist Parks here celebrates the endearing and exasperating traits of his adoptive home and the "magical duplicity" of its people.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"One of the most delightful travelogues imaginable...So vivid, so packed with delectable details, that it serves...as a more than decent substitute for the real thing."--LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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The problem that the telling is two fold. One of theme and one of technique. Reading Tim Parks was tiring. Short chapters that string together if you lead an existential life, but within these 5 and 10 page chapters are long paragraphs and almost non-existent dialogue told in first person. My brain aches from needing a rest between such long passages. Certainly I start to learn about the little part of the world Parks calls home, but the rhythm is all wrong. Good way to put me to sleep every night and that surely was not the intent of the author.
The second fault is that of theme. After more than half the book you realize that there is no story but to be told what life is like for the man in the city on the outskirts of Verona. There is no quest, there is no reason, it is just the telling of the exposure to the little world of Via Colombare, that you/I begin to wonder why? Do Frances Mayes and Peter Mayle have these same problems or are they more deft at showing us a story when one is transplanted to another culture.
For 2.99 instead of $20, it was worth an exploration but never a return visit.
Industrial estates mingle with overblown villas, abandoned fields with factory farming, and fearful traffic races inches past houses and windows. Parks advises newcomers to find a local bar and befriend the natives, who otherwise resent the in-comers, and this tension between those coming into the North of Italy, whether from the South, from other nations, or as second-home gentrifiers, gives this account more grit and tension underneath the surface.
He finds, as at the bar, people living with two facades. The public one looks ragged, to evade taxes or scrutiny, but the private one opens up to reveal tradition, conformity, and secrets. "Anarchy without, ceremony within." (26) On the surface, Parks narrates nearly a year, from glaring summer through foggy seasons in hot or cold weather, back to glorious spring. His wife bears them a daughter at the end of this account (followed by "Italian Education"), so they will indeed settle down past their year's rent of their share of the noisy concrete villa on Via Colombine, next to the eternally barking dog Vega and above their crazy neighbor Lucilla.
My favorite chapters, as each comprises an elegant essay on a topic ordered chronologically, were on taxes, the way state jobs are coveted, and the local cemetery. Parks ends that section with mixed feelings about where his neighbors have settled in for so long, in life and in death. "Life is so carefully controlled in the Veneto, so attractively wrapped up: cappuccino until ten, then espresso; aperitivo after twelve; your pasta, your meat, your dolce in bright packaging; light white wine, strong red wine, prosecco; baptism, first communion, marriage, funeral; loculo, lumino, exhumation." (149) For, after 10 years, your bones will be dug up-- replaced by a more recent arrival, related to you, in your family plot, and it's off to the ossuary for your remains.
Parks writes well. He doesn't give us much sense of why he and his wife chose there, other than that he teaches at the university in Verona. He gives almost nothing about his past life or his wife's backstory as an Italian. While this focus allows us to concentrate on what he wants to share with us as a common period of adaptation, it risks making Parks and his wife more minor characters than protagonists. His neighbors, as the title indicates, take center stage. Still, I would have liked to know more about Parks, his wife, and how they picked Montecchio village.
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born and raised in Veneto, the region Tim Parks talks
about in his book.Read more