I bought this book as a fun read during my travels to Tuscany but ultimately gave up on it so that I could get on and enjoy my holiday in beautiful surroundings that bore little resemblance to those described by the author. I found the writing smug and cynical and, in some places, so repetitive that I thought there had been copy and paste errors. As with other authors who stereotype entire regions (Bill Bryson, Peter Mayle), Severgnini's claims that "all people in Milan do this" and "all buildings in Tuscany are like this" didn't square with the experiences I was having on my travels. This is the only review I've written for a book I haven't finished, so perhaps it is not entirely a fair one; however, the sun is shining in Italy and, despite the assertion that no one drinks a cappuccino in the afternoon, I think I'll go and do just that.
There are many excellent books on modern Italy: "Italy: the Unfinished revolution" by Matt Frei, "The Dark Heart of Italy" by Tobias Jones, in addition to the classic book by Barzini. Severgnini writes as an insider who is well placed to compare England and Italy, having been posted in London for many years.
The book starts well by noting foreign writers tend to fall into two camps: the American women (wistful and romantic) and English men (corruption and Berlosconi obsessed). However, from this point, it is pretty much all downhill. Severgnini rambles from one observation to another (e.g. pages on Italian windows) but he is just not sufficiently interesting to excuse the over-written and florid style. The difference between 'Italy' and 'Italia' isn't sustained and observing that no one drinks cappuccio in Italy after 10am is so well known as to be tiresome.
I suspect the problem may partly arise from a bad translation which often hits the wrong note: e.g. 'Mamma' translates badly as 'Mum'. This however would not excuse the suggestion that London offices are all empty at 5pm in London during the week - that is simply wrong (perhaps written for an Italian audience)- and calls into question the veracity of his other broad generalisations.
I like to turn the corner of every page of a book which has interested me. There are two pages turned in this book. It is written in big type with generous margains and barely spans 200 pages.
Beppe Severgnini is an author as comfortable in English as he is in his native Italian. This is a highly readable mini-travelogue , highlighting all of the places in Italy that a Briton would consider as a holiday destination and embellishing it with colourful stories of the locals, while selecting the best of civic traditions as well as those of the wider sense of "Italianess". The observations seek to bring out the best of the Italians and those that could be deemed to be " curious/eccentric" are treated with sympathy and humour, but above all they are tailored to an english speaking and in particular, a British audience. Clearly, he has a fondness for his adoopted country (he lived in the UK for several years) and its citizens and you get the feeling that working on it was a labour of love. highly recommended
a friend of mind said before doing business in a country - read 2 books - one by someone from outside it and one from within. Bella Figura combined with the Dark Heart of Italy worked well for me having done projects there for years on and off it brought aspects of cultural understanding in to sharp relief.
I thought that this book was aimed at people like me....If so this book is not just off target but out of the stadium!
If you have had any experience of Italy, or read books by Tobias Jones, Tim Parks or Joe McGinniss etc. I would save your cash.
The author uses the book as an excuse in delivering elaborate rhetoric - in an impressive use of language (English). Rather like a rower with one oar this doesn't get us anywhere much...
To give an example... the fact that many Italians do not regard traffic signals with too much seriousness is worthy of much comment. Is there anyone with any interest in Italy that does not know this already?
Neither very enlightening nor very funny, this book does NOT do what it says on the tin. Yes, it's written in an easy and lightweight style, but it seemed to me to be empty of anything really revelatory or thought-provoking about its subject. Although it is framed as a 'journey' through Italy, it does little to evoke or describe the differences in temperament or landscape in the regions of the country. This book was full of the kinds of generalisation about Italy that I might have expected from a non-native, but seemed pretty unforgivable from an Italian writer. For anyone who wants to understand the complexities of Italy in a much more informed and nuanced way, I would recommend giving this little book a miss and trying Tobias Jones's "The Dark Heart of Italy".
What we have here is a book that lacks discipline and a strong editor. There are some good points, but they are lost in a cacophony of words. It seems padded, repetitive and unfocused, and I found myself quickly putting it down every few pages. That was not a good sign.
There is also a certain smugness that is not endearing. "Yes, we do that, but we're just like that, we're Italian" doesn't explain WHY Italians think the way the do and what influences them to think that way. It's too cutesy where it should be insightful.
As others have said, take any book by Tim Parks and you'll find an insightful account of both Italy and Italians, delivered in an extremely well written and rewarding style.