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Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village [Paperback]

Julia Blackburn
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 July 2012

Shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Biography Award and the 2012 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize

Julia Blackburn and her husband moved to a little house in the mountains of northern Italy in 1999. She arrived as a stranger but a series of events brought her close to the old people of the village and they began to tell her their stories. Of how their village had been trapped in an archaic feudal system and owned by a local padrone who demanded his share of all they had, of the eruption of the Second World War, of the conflict between the fascists and the partisans, of death and fear and hunger of how they hid like like foxes in the mountains. 'Write it down for us,' they said, 'because otherwise it will all be lost.'

Thin Paths is a celebration of the songlines of one place that could be many places and a celebration of the humour and determination of the human spirit.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099549425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099549420
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"My book of the year. Beautiful, beguiling, memorable" (Edmund de Waal)

"Impossible to forget...beautiful and deeply humane" (Sunday Times)

"Profoundly moving...absorbing...and compassionate... Blackburn writes beautifully and despite its sorrows, Thin Paths is full of humour and pulsating life" (Scotsman)

"Marvellous... Her writing is as eloquent and elegant as ever" (Literary Review)

"A lyrical patchwork of fine-grained nature writing" (Independent)

Book Description

Shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Biography Award, the 2012 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and longlisted for the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, this is a moving and fascinating account of the history, landscape and people of a remote village high in the Ligurian mountains.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thin Paths by Julia Blackburn 30 Aug 2011
By tobykin
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
About a year ago I heard Julia Blackburn reading her short stories on Radio4 and I was spellbound. So, when I saw her new book: 'Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village' I had to read it and wasn't disappointed.

Her style of writing is lyrical and full of pathos. It is a touching story of her life in a remote village in Liguria, Northern Italy. She moved there with her husband in 1999 and was soon befriended by the villagers. She kept a diary of her life among these modest people. They tell her their life stories, their life before the second world war when they were 'mezzadri' - 'half people'. She describes her walks around the villages whose inhabitants have left long ago and only a few villagers and shepherds are now still living there. Despite the harsh life in the past there is still a nostalgia for bygone days... The warmth of these people is quite remarkable despite all their struggles. They had never lost their humanity and humility.

Julia decided to write it all down before it is all forgotten and she indeed paints a very vivid picture of these people and their life in this harsh but beautiful land. A very enjoyable read and would recommend it very highly. An excellent book!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Mrs
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For years I have been a walker of Italian Mountain paths, winding trails and goat paths. Many of these times I have trecked past abandoned villages of tiny stone houses or picnicked high in the hills, my back against the wall of some old wall, that had previously been a home. Yes and inside there are often bits and pieces of broken something or other, all left as someone had just popped out,meaning to return shortly, but never did. After reading "Thin Paths", I now have the ability to see how they all were, as living vibrant little communities, torn asunder by the war. Now when walking I will see all those abandoned villages and hamlets with new vision, and sense all the other untold stories. I found the book absolutely fascinating, and a lovely, lovely read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, sensitive...but... 19 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have mixed reactions to this book, which is about a subject that has long interested me. Mostly I appreciate the good points. It is basically well-written and recounts with interest, sensitivity and empathy something of the lives of the last generation to have lived a 'peasant life' in remote mountain communities in Liguria (northwest Italy). The prose is mainly direct and simple, with vivid and imaginative depictions of the landscape and wildlife. Then the bad points, as I perceive them, bother me. It is at times a bit superficial, occasionally has a rather twee 'Country Living' flavour, is sometimes too much centred on the author herself for my taste, and has a few other irritations.

To be clear: the author has performed a real service in talking with the old people she met and recording their stories so generously revealed to her. They show a world of poverty, toil and hardship that had changed little in centuries - a world shaped by mountain geography and stone-hearted landlords. It is a way of life now more or less vanished, the clues to which are rapidly disappearing as the older generation dies, the young leave for more benign surroundings, and the old houses are abandoned. Many of the old people remaining are scarred by terrible things seen in the war and the impossible choices that had to be made. The pace of change since the 1950s has been extraordinary. In one mountain village I know quite well in the north Apennines (about 150 kms east of the author's site), when I first stayed in the 1960s, people would keep the milk cows on the ground floor of the farmhouse and would bring hay and wood down from the mountains on wooden sledges drawn by oxen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Photographing a micro-world 14 July 2012
By ElenaJ
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved this book. I live in Italy, in the north but further east with respect to the book's location, and can affirm that what is written is very true to life. I find a lot of books about life in Italy very shallow and not reflective of the reality, which is so irritating, but this one hits it really on the head. Even though the author is not Italian, she has the ability to observe and report accurately. In this way she managed to capture this very unique, slightly odd, slice of the society, the environment and the inter weavings amongst the various characters. They are not typical of the Italian culture overall, but of this particular area. Also loved the way the present was tied to the past by following very thin threads, really fascinating. She did a brilliant job of re-creating their little world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thin paths 12 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Interesting book to read as we holiday there now and again, as my nephew and his wife own the house next door to Ida and Armondo who are as the book says the most wonderful people. I found myself wondering around the mountains (in the book) recognising some things and not knowing others. I how realise,why they are so self sufficient, not throwing anything away, independent to a fault. How they survived during hard times, but their world continued on as always. It was, in a sense, a basic story - how they village lived day by day, how they coped with all the day to day things as well as being left to survive, with the war etc. Then in there day to day lives now, nothing much has changed. Ida and Armando still sit at the side of the house and chat with friends who call round to see them. The vines still grow along with the vegetables and flowers, the goats and the sheep still roam and now there is a new donkey in the field below that makes lots of noise.
I wish to go back soon, and maybe do some of the walks but I know that I will never describe it the way Julia has done.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpses of time gone by
Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village, is set in Liguria, the left-hand 'armpit' of the Italian torso. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Frequent Traveller
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening and a great read.
Once started I could not put the book down. We moved into the same area around the same time as the author and until reading this book had many unanswered questions about... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Electricnick
5.0 out of 5 stars People in a landscape
This is a very quiet, honest and respectful book about an ageing community forged by a harsh landscape and warfare. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Digger
5.0 out of 5 stars If living in Italy is difficult and confusing......
I recommend reading this book. Most books written by those who live in Italy romanticize their lives, whilst adding in a little frustration at the oddities they encounter. Read more
Published 17 months ago by M Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars thin Paths
This book is a cross between a conventional 'I started a new life in a new country' and a history of life in a cut off part of italy in the Second World War. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mrs. Barbara M. Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an area I know
For years we have been visiting the area between France and Italy. We frequently visit the mountain villages between the two countries . Read more
Published 22 months ago by Roberto
4.0 out of 5 stars quick dlivery -nice read
Nice read of compiled stories from a remote area of Italy with a human touch.A book to put down and pick up at any time. Very quick delivery.
Published 22 months ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars A very unusual book
As I child I used to wander the valleys and overgrown terraces behind the Ligurian coastal towns, whilst on holiday with my parents. Read more
Published on 8 April 2012 by Amazon Customer
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