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Thin Paths: Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village Paperback – 5 Jul 2012
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"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)
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.See all Product description
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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!
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.
A melange of travel book and memoir, Thin Paths is an enjoyable read. The sub-title ‘Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village’ appropriately excludes reference to the seeing-eye author, whose ‘rescuing’ of a life that is being swiftly outmoded gives a melancholy tinge to these tales of persistence and occasionally derring-do. The smooth transitions between past and present are well handled: the anecdotal stories of real people, many of whom are now in their nineties form that vital link.
Julia’s partner Herman is for the most part kept hidden, and his long visit to Amsterdam for cancer treatment that must have been traumatic is deliberately underplayed. The author is too preoccupied with studying the flora and fauna and of unlocking the peasant life that is gone and lost for ever. She has a snatching eye that seizes on fragments, some of which are caught on camera, which reveal the mutability of this isolated community. In a section entitled ‘Fragility’ she picks up a bit of a tombstone and takes it home: The stone was heavy and its rough edges bit into the palm of my hands. I found a place to prop it at the back of the water tank. Reflected in the water, the sunlight flickered on the surface of the marble. The shadow of maidenhair ferns flickered across it and shuddered in the wind.
If you have read the author’s previous memoir of her horrendous upbringing, The Three of Us, you will understand her need to find peace and tranquillity in the remoter areas of Liguria. Deadly snakes and cat-eating peasants are as nothing in comparison. Nature is predictable and observable, while the human heart remains a dark mystery.
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Why cannot such a book be written about old England (or Wales)?