Review: Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆


What It’s About:

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?”

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My Thoughts:

“A train is a train is a train, isn’t it?”  So starts Tim Parks’ Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.  This charming narrative about life and travel in Italy vacillates between complaints of the inefficiencies and inconveniences of rail travel to extolling its virtues.  Sure the bus is faster, but it isn’t nearly as romantic or interesting!

I love to travel, and my very first memory is of a train trip from California to Iowa to visit my grandmother.  It seemed like a grand and daring adventure at the age of three.  I haven’t used the U.S. train system much, but I have used the train in other countries when traveling in adulthood.  I loved every minute of the experiences unique to train travel in each country!   So, when I spotted this book in my library’s newsletter, I snatched up an audiobook copy of Italian Ways.

Tim Parks’ book did not disappoint.  I loved his use of anecdotes to show Italians’ stalwart devotion to living at home with their family while commuting up to hundreds of miles by train to work. Parks made each vignette come to life with vivid descriptions of the people and places.  Whether it was officious train personnel, odiferous commuters or charming, but hapless tourists, each of Parks’ interactions on his railway travels is memorable.  He truly gives readers the social, economic, and political vibe of Italy.

Regardless the type of train ( regional, interregional or high-speed (i.e., Eurostar) trains), the stories brought back memories of my own travels.  The book will resonate with anyone who has traveled by train in Europe—especially Italy, and readers who have not travelled to Europe/Italy, will surely begin planning their own railway adventure to experience not only the romance of rail travel but the highly organic experience of regional trains and the colorful and enriching interaction with the local community.

The audiobook is entertainingly narrated by Ben Bartolone.


© Copyright 2018 Book Junkie Reviews. All rights reserved.

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