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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thin Paths by Julia Blackburn
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,...
Published on 30 Aug 2011 by tobykin

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thin paths
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,...
Published 18 months ago by franfish


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thin Paths by Julia Blackburn, 30 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and informative treck through an Italian village., 17 Jun 2012
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Mrs "annieoils" (Twickenham, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
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
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
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. Now, nobody keeps livestock (except chickens), tractors work the tiny fields, the number of shiny 4 x 4s seems to increase every year while the number of inhabitants declines year by year. The old woodsmen have retired, bent and battered from their labours, and most younger people commute down to the plains to work, or have moved there.

The irritations? It's a bit frustrating not to be told more about present life in the area; occasional comments about foreigners and other second home owners diminish the impression given of untouched remoteness. Then there are the zoological inaccuracies, which might be trivial in themselves but make me wonder how accurate other statements are. For example, on p55, the author describes how her dog caught a "peregrine falcon" by the wingtip, and the bird watched her "with a yellow eye"; but this leaves me confused because peregrines (and other falcons) have dark eyes, not yellow, and the most likely yellow-eyed raptor would have been a sparrowhawk. So when she says (p13) that she became able to identify eagles and peregrines, the reader actually doesn't know what species she was seeing. Page 68, there's a section headed "Reptiles", which is all about toads and salamanders, which of course are not reptiles at all but amphibians. I suppose an author might be forgiven a gap or two in their general knowledge, but don't editors know anything these days, or don't they edit any more? Then there is all the reported speech of the author's friends and informants: it would have been good to know if these written down verbatim, or the conversations recorded, or 're-created' later. But that's enough on the irritations (which only confirm my status as a boring old ----).

This is fundamentally a sincere, fascinating, moving and valuable account that gives some flavour of how life used to be in these north Italian mountains a generation or two ago: hard and simple beyond the imagining of most 21st century city dwellers. Anyone wanting a more academic perspective on society and culture in Italian mountains might find "Long Live the Strong" by Roland Sarti or "Fate and Honor, Family and Village" by Rudolph M. Bell of interest; then, for a less academic approach, there's always Eric Newby's very entertaining "Love and War in the Apennines".
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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
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
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
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very unusual book, 8 April 2012
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
As I child I used to wander the valleys and overgrown terraces behind the Ligurian coastal towns, whilst on holiday with my parents. This book brings to life the area and the people, in a highly original and alluring way. I couldn't put the book down and read in in a day and half. I wish the plates were colour though, accepting that would make the price very high. An excellent book that will draw you in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an area I know, 11 Oct 2012
For years we have been visiting the area between France and Italy. We frequently visit the mountain villages between the two countries . This is a well written book which gives insight into the lives lead by the villages during the last war. It was a thought provoking read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars quick dlivery -nice read, 5 Oct 2012
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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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpses of time gone by, 8 Feb 2014
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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. The area was a stronghold of the partisans -- as much of Liguria was -- which meant that the local population came in for a particularly hard time from the German occupying forces. The period immediately following the cessation of hostilities was also characterised by the settling of old scores, which affected several of Blackburn's neighbours deeply to the present day.

I found this book easy to dip into, and I always found myself reading on later than I had intended, though it is a gentle rather than a gripping narrative. It is hard to describe and impossible to categorise. But read it. Do read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening and a great read., 4 May 2013
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This review is from: Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village (Hardcover)
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 historical buildings / features of the valley. Julia has skillfully protected the identity of the valley and villages without detracting from the story. The later chapters on the brutal treatment of the Ligurians in WW2 is particularly poignant. It is a pity that she did not include a postscript describing the reversal of fortunes and regeneration that the valley is currently experiencing. An expertly presented novel and a great read.
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Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village
Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn (Hardcover - 7 July 2011)
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