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Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village Hardcover – 7 Jul 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; 1st Edition edition (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224090682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224090681
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"No Italian-themed book of this season conjures up a place so scrupulously. And none can match Blackburn's in its sympathy with every human traveller through the "vast landscape" of time. Blackburn brings her special gift for the art of place to this lyrical account of the Italian mountain village where she and her husband settled. Although she writes superbly about landscape and wildlife, it's her neighbours, and their haunting tales, who make the book sting." (Independent)

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

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

"Reading Julia Blackburn's account of her life in a remote corner of the Ligurian mountains is like lifting a stone to find a strange, intricate, hidden world...prose that is ruthlessly unsentimental, but full of love." (Maggie Fergusson Intelligent Life)

"A beautiful and unusual exploration of a strange landscape and forgotten lives in a remote Italian region that captivated us all." (Sue Baker, Peter Donaldson and Flora Fraser Costa Book Awards 2011 judging panel)

Book Description

An account of the history, landscape and people of a remote village high in the Ligurian mountains.

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By tobykin on 30 Aug. 2011
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 BG on 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mrs on 17 Jun. 2012
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Frequent Traveller on 8 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village, is set in Liguria, the left-hand 'armpit' of the Italian torso. The British author, Julia Blackburn, never gives the exact location of the village where she and her Dutch husband have come to live, possibly because she would prefer to keep her little piece of heaven to herself. However, it is perched high in the Apennines and not far from the French border. And breathtakingly beautiful, though she never labours that point.

This is a sort of travel book, in that it is about a particular area and its fairly recent history, but what gives the book its charm is the author's somewhat meandering conversations with her neighbours about their everyday lives, past and present. They are mostly old – some very old -- for all the young people have left the privations of life in the mountainous region for homes and jobs further down the valley.

Julia Blackburn must have language skills of a high order -- not to mention stellar homesteading abilities and considerable charm -- to have settled in a remote ruined house and got herself accepted by her neighbours. Most of these elderly Italians in fact speak Italian as a second language to a variety of fast-disappearing dialects. Just to follow their basic conversation, never mind become firm friends, is a substantial achievement, given that Blackburn was not even fluent in formal Italian when she arrived.

The hard life of these mountain people, shepherds and serfs (yes, feudal serfs in many cases), was made especially difficult during and just after WW2, which they mostly seem to have approached from a practical rather than a political point of view.
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