Books by Foreigners About Italy

Italian Neighbors – by Tim Parks

Paul gave me this book from my Amazon wish list; I had been meaning to read Parks for quite some time, having heard good things about him.

All the reviews I’d read mentioned his books as being about Verona, but, on the very first page, I laughed out loud: “Italian Neighbors” is set in Montecchio, a small town that I’ve visited several times because Enrico has cousins there (though I don’t know it well enough to recognize the specific places Parks mentions).

This is a different sort of book from the “buy a villa in Tuscany” or “live in a picturesque village” sagas listed below; Parks lives a more ordinary life, he and his Italian wife struggling (as many of us do) to make ends meet with whatever work they can find (in his case, English teaching and translation, and writing). They deal with the hassles and enjoy the pleasures of ordinary Italian life, as Parks observes keenly and reports kindly. Montecchio is not much of a tourist destination nor particularly picturesque, but Parks brings out the small beauties and large charms available in almost every Italian town, if you know how to look. In sum, he reminds me rather of myself writing about Italy: he notices different things, but writes about them much the same way I would. (The big difference is: he’s published!)

Parks’ commentary on Italian social life and customs is dead on, though a bit out of date – the book was originally published in 1992, and even Italy has changed in this last tumultuous decade and a half. In addition to novels, Parks has written several more books about his life in Italy which doubtless bring the story forward and remark on these changes; I’ll let you know when I get around to reading them. His most recent, about the Medicis, was well reviewed in the Economist and elsewhere.

more books by Tim Parks

Books About Living in Italy

Dec 17, 2003

So I’ve been thinking of writing a book about life in Italy (just what the world needs more of). I’ve been checking out some of the competition on Amazon – none of which I have actually read:

“Like many European travel memoirs, Hawes’s work hinges on making the locals appear charming and eccentric, making the food seem sacred and making the countryside’s beauty look dazzling yet unappreciated by those who live there.”

“A sensuous valentine to author Ferenc Máté’s adopted homeland, The Hills of Tuscany brims with lush descriptions of golden dales, scrumptious meals, rich wines, and friendly natives.”“Of all the romantic obsessions in novelist Lisa St Aubin de Teran‘s life, the search for a castle occupied her the longest–until she saw the magnificent Villa Orsola deep in the Umbrian hills. Only after eagerly signing the ownership papers did she and her husband, painter Robbie Duff-Scott, discover they were the owners of a vast ruin lacking windowpanes, parts of the roof, and other essentials. A Valley in Italy recounts its restoration in the grand style of impossible house and the charms of bohemian family life. It also offers a rare portrait of the life of an Italian village, where ‘all things are made to be as enjoyable as possible.'”

“Everywhere hailed for its quirkiness, its hilarity, its charm, Pasquale’s Nose tells the story of a New York City lawyer who runs away to a small Etruscan village with his wife and new baby, and discovers a community of true eccentrics – warring bean growers, vanishing philosophers, a blind bootmaker, a porcupine hunter-among whom he feels unexpectedly at home.”

Okay, clearly I’m unqualified – I don’t live in Tuscany or Umbria or any small village or on a farm, and I haven’t renovated a villa, castle, or farmhouse. (Among other reasons, I don’t have the unlimited funds required to do some of those things.) I do love food and cooking, but my life doesn’t revolve around it. I have Italian friends and neighbors, but they are not friendly peasants or lovable eccentrics. Oh, well. As usual, I will just have to do it my way, and hope that someone wants to buy the result. Anyone know a good literary agent?

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