"... I soon found that our version of village life organized itself around the ascendancy and final daily importance of doing nothing." - Author Michael Paterniti, on living in Guzmán
"It was a privilege to walk this land, to live in this place, to watch the grain grow." - Author Michael Paterniti, on living in Guzmán
"... I'm writing the epic history of the ingenious Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, visionary cheesemaker and witch doctor of human truths, towering human and storyteller extraordinaire." - Author Michael Paterniti, on his reason for living in Guzmán
As a starving grad student in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, author-to-be Michael Paterniti made sandwiches at Zingerman's Deli on the weekends. It was at this eatery that he became acquainted with a very expensive cheese imported from Spain, Páramo de Guzmán. It wasn't that Michael could actually afford to buy any to eat. No, he became acquainted with it by editing the owner's monthly newsletter, in which said owner rapturously raved about the stuff.
Years later, married and with offspring, Paterniti ran across the old newsletter that contained mention of the cheese. While endeavoring to learn more information about the delicacy, he discovered it was no longer being made. So, he set out with his family to live for several months in the small, Castilian Spanish village of Guzmán (116 miles north of Madrid) to write the story of the cheese and its former maker, Ambrosio Molinos. Oh, and by the way, he went armed with a publication deal for a book on the subject, which was to ultimately become this volume, THE TELLING ROOM.
Michael learned from Ambrosio that his cheese had become wildly successful in the international marketplace. Ultimately, however, the business was, according to Ambrosio, stolen from him by his treacherous, former best-friend Julián and two conniving investors. Thus, the book's subtitle: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese.
Well, ok. But THE TELLING ROOM is more a tale about the author's decade-long infatuation with rural Spain and the charismatic character of Ambrosio Molinos. As such, the book is best suited for one who's been to Spain and loves the country and/or its history. And it doesn't hurt if such reader has a propensity for making heroes out of rustics. I'm neither.
I first thought that THE TELLING ROOM was a novel, but eventually realized that it isn't. There is indeed a Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, (still) a Páramo de Guzmán cheese, the village of Guzmán, and a lawyer in Madrid named Julián Mateos - he has a Web presence. Ambrosio is real also, presumably.
The author loves to insert many and lengthy footnotes at the bottom of the page. Indeed, in one horrific example spanning the bottoms of four (!) pages, the footnotes have footnotes which have footnotes. Really? Puhleeze! As one who usually leaves unread footnotes listed at the end of a book, I found this practice unnecessarily distracting. Ok, annoying actually. But, that's just me.
The story proceeds at a glacial pace that will perhaps delight the reader who savors it as one might savor the taste of a fine wine or cheese by sipping or nibbling it slowly. However, THE TELLING ROOM is also the author's narrative of the writing of the book, something which he admits took too long - literally years - for one perfectly reasonable reason or another. He left in his wake some irked to very irked publishers when contractual deadlines weren't met. Even his wife Sara advised him to get it done and move on. Thus, by the time I reached the last third of the book, I also just wanted to be done with it so I could move on to other books on my shelf. That feeling wouldn't, and doesn't, make for a ringing endorsement, though I recognize that others may, and will, find the story absolutely delightful.