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

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

4.5 4
by Tim Parks
     
 

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“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

Overview

“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?"

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Liesl Schillinger
This reverie is so inviting you might find yourself tempted to give the experience a whirl and ride the Italian rails yourself, book in hand.
Publishers Weekly
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)
Rachel Donadio - New York Times
“This mix of piercing social observation and undying affection for Italy is classic Parks.”
Ben Downing - The Wall Street Journal
“[A] treat equivalent to a ride on the Orient Express… Italian Ways is no Ferrari on rails but instead something much better: a slow train so thoughtfully appointed that one never thinks to look out the window or care about the destination.”
Andrea Lee - newyorker.com
“Fascinating [and] droll…. Parks [is] perhaps the most faithful foreign inamorato Italy has ever had.”
Mark OConnell
“Parks sees Italian culture with the more or less detached clarity of the outsider, but has spent enough time living in the place to feel justified in critiquing it from within…. Unmistakably an expression of love for his adopted country and its people.”
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times Book Review
“[S]o inviting you might find yourself tempted to give the experience a whirl and ride the Italian trains yourself, book in hand.”
Chloë Schama - Smithsonian
“[Parks is] a perfect guide—an outsider, but one with a deep familiarity and respect (plus a dash of exasperated skepticism)—to the country’s celebrated eccentricities. Parks has a charming voice and a novelist’s eye.”
John Lloyd - Financial Times
“This is not a “railway book” in any conventional sense. It is sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued about the absurdities of ‘Italian ways.'”
Mark O’Connell
“Parks sees Italian culture with the more or less detached clarity of the outsider, but has spent enough time living in the place to feel justified in critiquing it from within…. Unmistakably an expression of love for his adopted country and its people.”
Alexander Aciman - The Daily Beast
“Incisive [and] hilarious.”
Brigitte Frase - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Relaxed, humorous, meandering [and] charming.”
Richard Eder - Boston Globe
“A movable feast to say the least.”
Micahel Upchurch - Seattle Times
“Presents a picture of Italy you won’t get from any tourist board… sympathetic and lively.”
Marjorie Kehe - Christian Science Monitor
“Parks really shines. He gives us a country that is as frustrating as it is endlessly fascinating.”
Ben Downing - Wall Street Journal
“[A] treat equivalent to a ride on the Orient Express… Italian Ways is no Ferrari on rails but instead something much better: a slow train so thoughtfully appointed that one never thinks to look out the window or care about the destination.”
Alexander Stille - New York Review of Books
“Charming and fascinating.”
Sean Wilsey
“This is the best book I’ve ever read about Italy. Never have I encountered a more insightful and hilarious insider/outsider portrait of the country at the center of Western civilization. Tim Parks should be given a villa in Rome and the title of English ambassador.”
David Shields
“There is no way that Italian Ways should work—but somehow it does work. How? Partly because the book is, as Tim Parks says, a search for the Italian character, which he evokes in dozens of gorgeously written scenes; but beyond that Parks is exploring the dynamic between tradition and innovation…Underneath everything, Parks is trying to come to a point of loving the world in all its confusion and frustration, and by book’s end he does, he does. Bravo.”
David Lodge
“Engrossing, entertaining, and wonderfully revealing about the country and its people. It makes perfect armchair travelling – a delight from beginning to end.”
Tom Vanderbilt
“Tim Parks has reinvented the narrative of the train journey with an epic voyage into the essence of Italy itself. With a novelist’s keen eye he mines absurdity and deep meaning from small, overlooked moments and gestures.”
Kirkus Reviews
English-born expat novelist Parks (The Server, 2012, etc.) pokes affectionate fun at his fellow train travelers and surveys a rapidly changing Italian landscape. Since 1981, the author has lived in Italy and supplemented his fiction with a series of charming memoirs about his experiences there, beginning with Italian Neighbors (1992). Here, he chronicles his adventures on the nation's rails, which became his preferred mode of travel while commuting from his home in Verona (his wife's native turf) to his teaching job at the university in Milan. Train travel in Italy is the ultimate leveler, Parks finds, and it provides a microcosm of what is transpiring in the society as a whole since globalization has taken root. His observations mingle travelogue, history and memoir, spanning the years from 2005 to the present. During that period, parts of the main state railway, Trenitalia, were split off into private lines; regional routes were streamlined; faster trains were added to accommodate EU travelers; and reserved and class-oriented seating was introduced, along with some bewildering ticket machines. Anyone who has ever battled a provincial government functionary in Europe will be heartily amused by Parks' anecdotes about the finer points of choosing the correct ticket from an officious clerk or getting a ticket validated with the requisite stamp. His renderings of the comical pronunciations featured in well-intentioned English public-address announcements are also funny. Parks divides the passengers into several categories: chatty; objectionable; resigned; long-suffering; pignolo, which means the stickler who obeys each rule to the letter; and (an inevitability in Italy) furbo, the sly one who tries to get around every rule. Our intrepid traveler evolves from being disoriented by the newly renovated Milano Centrale station to being capable of negotiating a trip all the way south to Otranto and back. His journeys renew his sense of being eternally an outsider in Italy, yet he also recognizes how warmly he has taken to his adopted country. Enchanting travels with the good-natured Parks.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393240559
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/03/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
120,352
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Tim Parks was born in Manchester, England, in 1954, grew up in London, and has lived in Italy since 1981. His novels include Europa, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and he is the author of several nonfiction accounts of life in Italy, including Italian Neighbors and An Italian Education. During his years in Italy, Parks has translated works by Italo Calvino, Roberto Calasso, Alberto Moravia, and Machiavelli. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, for which he blogs.

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Italian Ways: On and off the Rails from Milan to Palermo 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Basil More than 1 year ago
Tim Parks may be London-born, but for the past 30 years he's been Italian-adopted, living in Verona with his Italian wife and their children and commuting to his teaching chores at a Milan University via the nation's quirky railway system. Trains are the theme of this bright, engaging book, which tells the reader just why "Italy is not a country for beginners," and cheerfully demonstrating why the whole distance from Milan to Palermo.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Listians to les miserables and cries
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walked in. "Sorry im late i got cght up with stuff at home."