Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim ParksThe best-selling author of Italian Neighbors returns with a wry and revealing portrait of Italian life—by riding its trains.
Tim Parks’s books on Italy have been hailed as so vivid, so packed with delectable details, [they] serve as a more than decent substitute for the real thing (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, in his first Italian travelogue in a decade, he delivers a charming and funny portrait of Italian ways by riding its trains from Verona to Milan, Rome to Palermo, and right down to the heel of Italy.
Parks begins as any traveler might: A train is a train is a train, isn’t it? But soon he turns his novelist’s eye to the details, and as he journeys through majestic Milano Centrale station or on the newest high-speed rail line, he delivers a uniquely insightful portrait of Italy. Through memorable encounters with ordinary Italians—conductors and ticket collectors, priests and prostitutes, scholars and lovers, gypsies and immigrants—Parks captures what makes Italian life distinctive: an obsession with speed but an acceptance of slower, older ways; a blind eye toward brutal architecture amid grand monuments; and an undying love of a good argument and the perfect cappuccino.
Italian Ways also explores how trains helped build Italy and how their development reflects Italians’ sense of themselves from Garibaldi to Mussolini to Berlusconi and beyond. Most of all, Italian Ways is an entertaining attempt to capture the essence of modern Italy. As Parks writes, To see the country by train is to consider the crux of the essential Italian dilemma: Is Italy part of the modern world, or not?
Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo
Tim Parks has written a book about Italian railways that is engrossing, entertaining, and wonderfully revealing about the country and its people. It makes perfect armchair travelling — a delight from beginning to end. David Lodge. I had sort of settled into the idea that I would never write another book about Italy again, or not maybe until I was a little older and could reflect on what all my years here had added up to. Then, very suddenly, it happened: there I was writing at top speed and with great pleasure, Italian Ways. The man to blame is Matt Weiland.
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Editorial Reviews. From Booklist. Parks' talents for observation don't coalesce into a Buy Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo: Read .
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It's a fine read, but just as a filler between other books. I didn't feel like I learned much about Italy, or ever felt transported there. - Parks was for many years married to an Italian and has three children, all born in Italy. He has written more than a dozen novels and 10 other books, including a handful of funny, appreciative and grousing memoirs about the particolari of daily life, Italian style.
L ike many people of my generation and upbringing, I am an ardent Italophile. And then I read Tim Parks, who has lived in Italy for 30 years, and really knows the place. But even the dimmest tourist should have some idea that staying somewhere in two-week stretches is a world away from actually living there, and trying to negotiate the requirements of daily life as demanded by the authorities. In Italy, these have always been hair-raisingly complex, demanding, frustrating, or, in Parks's more tactfully devastating phrase, "character-forming"; I used to sit at the feet of my Italian friends and ask them, "tell me again about the time you needed a new phone line," shivering delightedly in anticipation, like a child being told a favourite spine-chiller on Halloween. Parks's books on Italy can deliver the same frisson.
You can see vineyards, hilltop villages, oak forests, outcrops of volcanic rock, more distant peaks, an industrial estate, a landfill site, several miles of the Autostrada del Sole and, running beside the motorway, two railway tracks. Meandering along the valley floor is the line originally built in the 19th century, which freight and local trains still trundle along, though there are fewer of those every year. He describes himself trying to describe what he's trying to do in the book — its dual purpose neatly encapsulated in its punning title — over dinner with a group of friends each other's, not his in the countryside near Ragusa, in western Sicily, one Sunday evening. I was their guest, after all. I'm inclined to share his hosts' scepticism, if only because I have no idea what Parks means when he talks, as he often does, about the "Italian psyche" or the "national psyche". Thankfully, it's not clear that he is entirely convinced by his own argument, either.