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La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language [Paperback]

Dianne Hales
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Jun 2011
Italians say that someone who acquires a new language possesses it. In my case, Italian possesses me. With Italian racing like blood through my veins, I do indeed see with different eyes, hear with different ears, and drink in the world with all my senses...

A celebration of the language and culture of Italy, La Bella Lingua is the story of how a language shaped a nation, told against the backdrop of one woman s personal quest to speak fluent Italian.

For anyone who has been to Italy, the fantasy of living the Italian life is powerfully seductive. But to truly become Italian, one must learn the language. This is how Dianne Hales began her journey. In La Bella Lingua, she brings the story of her decades-long experience with the the world s most loved and lovable language together with explorations of Italy s history, literature, art, music, movies, lifestyle, and food in a true opera amorosa a labor of her love of Italy.

Throughout her first excursion in Italy with non parlo Italiano as her only Italian phrase Dianne delighted in the beauty of what she saw but craved comprehension of what she heard. And so she chose to inhabit the language. Over more than twenty-five years she has studied Italian in every way possible: through Berlitz, books, CDs, podcasts, private tutorials and conversation groups, and, most importantly, large blocks of time in Italy. In the process she found that Italian became not just a passion and a pleasure, but a passport into Italy s storia and its very soul. She offers charming insights into what makes Italian the most emotionally expressive of languages, from how the pronto ( Ready! ) Italians say when they answer the telephone conveys a sense of something coming alive, to how even ordinary things such as a towel (asciugamano) or handkerchief (fazzoletto) sound better in Italian.

She invites readers to join her as she traces the evolution of Italian in the zesty graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, in Dante s incandescent cantos, and in Boccaccio s bawdy Decameron. She portrays how social graces remain woven into the fabric of Italian: even the chipper ciao, which does double duty as hi and bye, reflects centuries of bella figura. And she exalts the glories of Italy s food and its rich and often uproarious gastronomic language: Italians deftly describe someone uptight as a baccala (dried cod), a busybody who noses into everything as a prezzemolo (parsley), a worthless or banal movie as a polpettone (large meatball).

Like Dianne, readers of La Bella Lingua will find themselves innamorata, enchanted, by Italian, fascinated by its saga, tantalized by its adventures, addicted to its sound, and ever eager to spend more time in its company.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (15 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767927702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767927703
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.8 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what it says on the tin 2 Dec 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this on the basis of the title and Kindle sample which both seemed to indicate that the focus of this book was indeed the language of Italy with its abundant quirks and curious history as a relatively recent national tongue.

That is part of what this book does, and I enjoyed that aspect of it and the fairly cosy and anecdotal approach of the author. Clearly, the chapter about literature is relevant to the development of the language and she gives broad brush accounts of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch and others. My disappointment began to develop round about chapter 5 when the book morphs into a fairly superficial history of aspects of Italian culture, the very things I know a bit about and which have spurred me on to learn the language. The art history chapter, for example, strikes me as more than a little too stereotypically from the 'Renaissance art means Italian art' angle: Vasari is the guide (Vasari is very interesting and important!) but he is a hugely partisan figure who mythologises almost as much as he reveals in his desire to place Italy, and more particularly Tuscany, at the centre of all good things. For me that mythologising is at least as interesting as the myths, but she makes no reference to that, which is a pity as that impulse is relevant to a book on Italian cultural history. And the focus on language is lost.

Other chapters explore food, music, love and other rather sentimental aspects of the country's 'persona', and I felt just a little shortchanged as the book increasingly fails to live up to its title. I, personally, found these chapters less and less interesting as I her judgements became more sentimental and superficial: I raced through the last couple of chapters because it was beginning to be tiresome.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By David
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First, skip this if you're looking for an academic text or an encyclopaedic survey: the author is a journalist who is writing for amateurs (in both the English and the Italian sense of that word), and she has produced a book of manageable length (290 pages of text) that her target audience will enjoy.

As regards the language of Italy, I appreciated the frequent reminders of the importance of dialect in Italian culture; and her explanation of the emergence of the Tuscan dialect as "italiano standard" - see, for instance, her account of Manzoni's rewriting of "I promessi sposi" and the background to the familiar quote that he "rinsed his rags in the Arno". The general principle - that the language of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio eventually acquired pre-eminence, confirmed in the cultural field by Manzoni and eventually in the political field by Mussolini - is familiar, but not always presented with the wealth of examples that you will read here.

As regards Italian literature and culture generally, I enjoyed the anecdotal approach: how much more interesting does Leonardo Da Vinci appear when you discover that not only did he paint the Mona Lisa, invent the aeroplane, etc. etc., but he also wrote a short note on "why dogs sniff each others' bottoms"! (I have to say that, when I read this, my first thought was that some Italian friend of the author had been pulling her leg; but not so - it's true!)

What you get is the author's individual perspective on her subject matter, clearly derived from considerable knowledge of Italian language and culture, not just the pre-digested opinions of others, and supported by interesting, usually unfamiliar, details.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Praise from the first word, if you have a love of Italy and or the Italian language whether you are able to speak it or not, this book is definitely not just a must read but a title destined for your private collection.

I have owned a copy of this book since the end of last year and I have enjoyed dipping into it frequently. I have not until now though read it in depth enough so that I felt able to write a review.

Dianne Hales is an American journalist and published author. She wrote this book as a result or because, in her own words she never expected to fall ` madly, gladly, giddily in love with the world's most luscious language.' but fall she did head over heels. For over twenty years now Italian has become her way of immersing herself into Italy's culture, history, lifestyle and traditions. She shares this love with us in such an engaging manner you will be captivated.

Just take a peep at this list of Chapter headings.
Introduction: My Italian Brain and How It Grew
1. Confessions of an Innamorata
2. The Unlikely Rise of a Vulgar Tongue
3. To Hell and Back with Dante Alighieri
4. Italian's Literary Lions
5. The Baking of a Masterpiece
6. How Italian Civilized the West
7. La Storia dell'ArteA
8. On Golden Wings
9. Eating Italian
10. So Many Ways to Say "I Love You"
11. Marcello and Me
11. Irreverent Italian
12. Mother Tongue

I hope that just reading that list will have tempted you enough, it is the story of how the Italian language came into existence using art, history, music, literature, cooking, films and last but not least amore or love to teach us. It will not matter if you do not know or understand a word of Italian, a love of Italy and all things Italian is all you need.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best
This is one of the best bboks I have ever read and I will read it again and again . It is about the development of the Italian language and history > It is highly recommended
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. J. Whitty
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite book ever!
I have read this book three times and no doubt will read it again! It is really funny in parts and taught me so many things about Italian culture and language that I would... Read more
Published 1 month ago by NIBUYER
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have to anyone interested in Italy and Italian
I have bought two copies for myself and my son, we speak Italian which is not our first language and thought it would he fun to read. . Read more
Published 1 month ago by Patricia Rochester
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful
For anyone learning Italian, in love with Italy or an Italian this is a delightful read. Funny, insightful and inspiring.
Published 3 months ago by halebop
4.0 out of 5 stars Good entertaining overview
Witty informed ramble through the fascinating avenues and adventures of Italian by someone who spreads her love of the language and people well..
Book had a recurring typo.. Read more
Published 3 months ago by G Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
Sent in few days and the book is exactly as expected, at a cheap price. The novel was a present, so I haven't read it yet, but it looks funny.
Published 5 months ago by Davide Erbogasto
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I am learning to speak Italian and this book is a great help - it is a story as well as an educational aide.
Published 7 months ago by Linda Reeves
5.0 out of 5 stars Italy for me
Indeed, why wasn't I born in Italy? A lovely book for anyone with the slightest interest in Italy and italian.
Published 7 months ago by June Dawes
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Entertaining Read
I truly love this book. It has inspired me to work harder at my own Italian and reminded me how language is inextricably linked to culture. Read more
Published 9 months ago by thegreenguitar
5.0 out of 5 stars Mi piace molto
The writing is, by any standard, outstanding and the book is a delight to read. The author's enthusiasm for the "Italian thing" shines through and encourages her readers... Read more
Published 10 months ago by G. Spark
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