“So inviting you might find yourself tempted to give the experience a whirl and ride the Italian trains yourself, book in hand.”—Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review
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?"
Italy s railways offer entr e 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.