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36
4.2 out of 5 stars
Italian Neighbours: An Englishman in Verona
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2003
I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book, it is always nice to know how foreigners see you! Tim Parks is a good observer and gives you plenty of details on his surprise at some of the Italian ways.
Things have changed a bit, though, as the book was written some 15 years ago and we changed a lot in politics and way of living, even if the typical characters are still there (my aunt is obsessed with cleaning the house and keeping it perfect, some people I know are "car worshippers" and so on). Some of the differences may be due to the fact that I live in Piedmont and not in Veneto and there is a big difference, not as big as between the North and the South, but still sensible. I guess this is one of the reasons that made me so curious about the book. I started reading it and couldn't stop, I finished it in 2 days!
It is really a good insight in Italian provincial life and a good read for anyone with an interest in this country.
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100 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2001
This book, like "An Italian Education" by the same author, makes a compulsory reading for who really wants to know about Italian culture and I don't mean how they cook, how they dress or how they play football. Tim Parks has lived for twenty years in the town where I was born and I have to admit that it took an Englishman to pinpoint the every-day Italian characteristics and ways of living. For me it was a bit of a revelation because I never thought all the idiosincrasies, manias and madness of Italian society were anything to write about, but then a friend at work told me there was a guy who lived in Verona who wrote a book... and here I am, reviewing it. The book is brillant, thoroughly enjoyable, it is always witty, hilarious and critical at the same time, it makes such an entertaining reading. One breezes through the chapters. I could see myself, my family and friends in them and this is the way we are over there, this is so spot-on! The author got it so right! I think this book is very special because Tim Parks understood the culture of the place where he lives writing a couple of superbly entertaining books about it in the meanwhile.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2011
Having lived in Italy for several years, this book had a special resonance for me. While signor Tino's experiences are slightly different to mine, I could often relate to certain incidents and recognize various characters and their foibles. Tim Parks' descriptions of Italians and Italian life are witty and affectionate, exposing some of the oddities and idiosyncrasies of our European neighbours. I don't think, as other reviewers have said, that he is cruel and scathing in his writing, or that he writes from a position of superiority - I doubt that these reviewers have spent years living in a small, northern Italian community. Rather, he accurately captures how he tries to fit in with this simultaneously surprising, frustrating and charming people, whose culture and mindset are very different to our own. Don't expect scenes straight out of a Forster novel, populated with charistmatic Roberto Benignis and Sofia Lorens - you will be disappointed. If you set your preconceptions about Italy and its people aside, you will laugh, despair, and cheer along with Mr Parks. And when you have finished, go on to read the sequel, An Italian Education, which focuses on life from a parent's perspective, and then A Season With Verona, told from a football fan's point of view, which is joyous even for those who don't know the offside rule.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Tim Parks, unlike many other English authors who always keep aloof from the countries they live in, truly became integrated in Italian society. His family is Italian, he speaks the language perfectly and can understand it inside out... at least as much as any Italian. There is no smugness here, no superiority complex. Yet, he is able to maintain that cool-headed approach to description that only outsiders can enjoy when describing a complex society like that of Italy. As an Italian I find he does a better job than most Italian writers in describing us!

He is so part of Italy that, again as an Italian, I do not take offence when he makes fun of us! Because he is accurate, perceptive, and he loves the country. He tells it how it is, this is indeed how we live in Italy, beyond the stereotypes, with our bureaucracy, our immigrants (things have gotten more complicated since he wrote this book), our big and little manias...

The book was writen quite a few years ago, I read it in 1998, but as i re read it today I feel it is not out of date at all! So buy it by all means and get a good look deep into our country! Or at least Verona and the Venetia region, one of the richest and most advanced of all. It would, of course, have been a very different book had he lived in Rome or in the South!
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
As well as the delightful descriptions of customs that are culturally different, belonging to a different pace of life, there is more. It takes a brave man to tackle the subject of foreign in-laws, and Tim Parks does it with humour and patience. The parents-in-law who arrive and leave with no warning, make promises to their grandchildren that are not kept, who maintain a protective attitude towards grown-up sons, the expectations of loving greetings and being thanked profusely as this is the real reward for small gifts. This is a different culture for Tim Parks, where his children learn to take things for granted that their foreign father finds strange, but by observing and often bridging the gap between the generations he learns to understand, and to accept. A fascinating view of the complicated relationships in a family, where the foreigner always reminds himself that HE is the different element, and adapts. An eye-opening read for the increasing group of people who through intercultural / international marriage find themselves lost in a strange web, and also a good idea for ANY person dealing with in-laws, even if they share the same nationality, because the culture is always different.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2000
After years of despairing over writers who do zero research before setting a book in Italy, over authors that don't even bother to check the spelling of the words they put into their Italian characters' mouths (Mario Puzo is one hilarious example), I have finally come across this terrific book.
Tim Parks has truly lived here. He has had a good look around and understood what he has seen- I have never read such an accurate book on Italian society and mores as seen from a foreigner's point of view.
As the previous reviewer has noted, this is NOT a travel book: the author prefers to describe it as "an arrival book". It is a humourous and charming study of Italian culture by a writer who has chosen to make his home here.
Be warned though. Parks uses a LOT of Italian terms and phrases and this is probably unavoidable. His characters would sound stilted otherwise. The down side is that if you are not quite familiar with the Italian language this book could be a bit trying on your patience as a reader. To be fair though, one must add that it's nothing a good dictionary couldn't fix and that it's well worth persevering.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2007
This is an incredibly well-written book. Let's state right from the outset that this isn't even remotely a tourist guide, but if you know Italian life off the tourist beat just a little, you'll find yourself recognising characters, situations and attitudes to life you might have come across.

Yes, there are areas that won't appeal to English sensibilities. But it shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that when you cross the Channel, you'll find cultural differences that may disturb or even repel you. And so it is in Italy. The fact that these differences exist and Tim Parks chronicals them without an overlay of sentimentality or sensationalism makes them at the same time more shocking - but also more understandable.

I'm in the process of permanently relocating to Italy and I've come across some of the characters and situations in this book - which I find slightly reassuring, yet slightly worrying too ! Yes, it was written in the early 90s, but some attitudes seem pretty familiar.

I'm grateful to this book for increasing my understanding of Italian life and culture which can only be achieved by living there. And I'm relieved that it's enforced my own view that Italians are essentially a friendly and generous race, happy to accept the newcomer if the newcomer in turn accepts Italian life and traditions. And being non-Italian provides an instant excuse for your innocent - or deliberate - shortcomings.

Having read this book, In can't wait to read its sequels. Tim Parks has that rare ability to tell a story in simple, easy-to-read language, while also providing real insights into a foreign culture. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 November 2011
Tim Parks' account of an Englishman's life in the northern Italian city of Verona is an hilarious and affecting book. As a lover of all things Italian myself (from Giuseppe Verdi to Francesco Totti!), and having worked in Italy (OK, it was only Milan) for a number of years, I recognise the accuracy of many of Parks' observations of Italian characteristics. I do, of course, realise that working in a location does not equate to living there, but many of Parks' anecdotes coincide with those that my Italian friends have also related to me. I was also pleased to see (as I would have expected) comments from Italians (in other reviews) which have acknowledged the accuracy of much of Parks' account, without taking any offence at the more negative elements. In fact, quite frankly, if I were to consider the equivalent of life in Britain for such an account, I suspect I would have a struggle to paint a positive, rather than a negative, picture.

Parks makes many perceptive, and oftentimes hilarious, observations, including the Italian obsession with all things relating to children, the confusion in the roles of the various police forces (carabinieri, municipale, finanzaria, etc), and, of course, their love of football (even to the extent of Sunday churchgoers having their radio earphones plugged it to listen to the football commentary!).

Great stuff. Parks' other similar book Italian Education is also worth reading (though not quite as good as this one), as is his account of following Verona football club for a season (probably only if you have some interest in football, though).
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2008
Tim Parks has a habit of writing on subjects I'm fascinated by - Italy, football, education - so it's a bit odd that I tend to find his books hard-going and uninspiring. A Season in Verona seemed to me the work of a man who had no real enthusiasm for football, and Italian Neighbours reads like the diatribe of a bitter foreigner against a Veneto suburb and its inhabitants.

I believe Parks is trying to write an antidote to those travel books that come over all misty-eyed about sunsets in Tuscany, and so on - and I'm all for that. But there's no balance here: the book goes into considerable detail (it is 30-40% overlong) about the numerous petty annoyances of life in Italy, but has very little to say about what makes the Veneto, or its people, interesting. As one reviewer says below, Parks can be quite cruel, and often snobbish, about people who seem to be trying to be friendly towards him - this book is about his friends, but you suspect they're not friends with him now. At the same time, he has almost nothing to say about his wife, which is an odd balance, or lack of it.

Finally, there are a few stylistc quirks that make Parks an occasionally annoying read. He has a thing about starting sentences with verbs, such as 'Starts the author sentences with verbs often in this book', though that's a personal gripe. More importantly, he repeats the same observations time and again, particularly when describing people, so that he reduces them to a caricature. I think it's meant to be funny. So he lives opposite a woman who sweeps her patio with a broom every night? Great, but don't tell me 58 times in 200 pages.

There are some interesting chapters, especially those on cemeteries, bribery and the three types of job in Italy. But ultimately this book is what happens when you aim at realism and hit cynicism instead.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2003
For anyone wanting an insight into true italian characters this is the book for you.
Although he is married to an italian, and therefore his acceptance to the local community is smoother than for someone totally unconnected, he gives a real insight as to how a foreigner is viewed by his neighbours.
It is hilarious, touching and very close to the mark.
A must for anyone considering living in Italy!
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