Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

Tim Parks. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-23932-4
Italy’s railways offer entrée into its charming, infuriating soul in this delightful travelogue-cum–social commentary. Novelist and British expatriate Parks (Italian Neighbors) recounts his love-hate relationship with Italian train travel in rich, hilarious detail: the crazy ticketing and scheduling procedures; the Kafkaesque Trenitalia national rail bureaucracy; the oddly ceremonial cadences of train announcements; the grand station architecture festooned with glitzy lingerie ads; the epic battles with ticket inspectors over mysterious rules; the contrast between an aspiration to sleek, fast, convenient modernity and a reality of pokey, dilapidated, frustrating laggardness in “a nation at ease with the distance between the ideal and real.” His fellow passengers—yuppie blowhards, bored teens, bitter pensioners, gypsy beggars, pushy nuns, psychos, and prostitutes—furnish him with an inexhaustible supply of piquant character sketches that bring to vivid life the warm conviviality of Italian culture. Combining wonderfully evocative prose with a wry analysis, Parks provides local color while continually seeking hidden social meaning; like a good anthropologist, he knows every wrinkle of the native culture yet is enough of an outsider to register its strangeness and particularity. The result is a fascinating portrait of a society that seems rooted in place no matter how fast it goes. Photos. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency (June)
Reviewed on: 04/29/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
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