17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Well worth reading for anyone interested in learning more about the language and culture of Italy,
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This review is from: La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language (Paperback)
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. How interesting, for example, was the life story of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, who eventually became America's first university professor of Italian.
Only one word of warning for English readers: the author writes in a prose style familiar from American magazines and this occasionally grates on the English ear; but don't blame the author for that.