Some of his countrymen were displeased by Severgnini's depiction of Italy as "a sort of unusual purgatory, full of proud and curious lost souls," but most American readers will welcome his La Bella Figura as a smile-inducing corrective to "Tuscany of the mind" utopias. Few other explorations into the ever-perplexing Italian psyche are this enlightening or this entertaining.
Mr. Severgnini, a columnist for the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, turned a fond eye on the United States in his last book, Ciao, America!, but this time around, on his home turf, he bites harder and deeper. The paradoxes of Italian life engage him. They bring out the reflective wit that, he argues, is native to most Italians and may be their most potent weapon in the struggle with bureaucracy and social dysfunction. Intertwined with native wit is a strong sense of self-esteem enjoyed by even the humblest Italian, as well as a fatal weakness for beauty and surface appeal, "la bella figura."
The New York Times
SevergniniItalian newspaper columnist and author of the pesce-out-of-water memoir Ciao, America!must have wanted to emulate Luigi Barzini, author of the 1960s classic The Italians, in this somewhat tepid sociological look at his countrymen. Severgnini writes pleasantly enough (and Giles Watson's translation is smooth, for the most part), but his observations are anything but sharp. He organizes this overview as a kind of geographical "tour," with a chapter about car sex in Naples and another on the Italian countryside in Tuscany. Sweeping statements, such as "Italians have the same relationship with food that some Amazonian people have with the clouds in the skyone glance and we know what to expect," abound, and they have the ring of truth, but they're rarely backed up by supporting anecdotes. In today's shrunken world, jokes about how Italians love to see half-naked women on television ("The new Italian icon is the Semi-Undressed Signorina") and abuse their cellphone privileges simply aren't new. The collection ends with the hoariest of devices: a letter from an imaginary American friend who has taken Severgnini's tour and reminisces about the beautiful "girls" in a Milan disco. Barzini, too, often wrote in generalities, but he had the advantage of coming first. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A newspaper columnist for Corriere della Sera, a leading daily based in Milan, Severgnini (Ciao, America!) takes readers on a whirlwind ten-day tour through Italy's Lombardy, Tuscany, and Lazio provinces to end in Sardinia. More a primer on Italian culture than a travelog, Severgnini's book aims to locate the authentic Italian soul, beyond the stereotypical image proffered by travel agencies. To this end, the author offers insight into the Italian persona as it relates to everything from shoe shopping to train travel to the significance of the eat-in kitchen. He also includes revealing tidbits on office work, Italian television, and restaurant cover charges. Readers who savor firsthand accounts of living in specific countries, such as Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun or Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, will appreciate this lively tome. Recommended for larger travel collections.-Elizabeth Connor, The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina Lib., Charleston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Praise for Beppe Severgnini
La Bella Figura
“Don’t read this book—unless you have the courage to let Dottore Severgnini carve up your well-worn stereotypes about Italy. La Bella Figura proves that twenty-first-century Italians are more complicated than we thought. Sort of like Europeans. And Beppe loves them all.” —Howard Tomb, author of Wicked Italian
“The book on perplexing Italians . . . Severgnini’s most systematic probe of the Italian psyche yet . . . A keen observer of human nature, [he watches] his compatriots with amused insight . . . Laugh-out-loud funny.” —International Herald Tribune
“A Bella Laugh . . . This wonderfully funny and perceptive book . . . now finds its way to the country that inspired it. What a pity it took so long to get here, but what a joy that it is here at last. Ciao, America! is fun from first page to last, pure and simple.” —The Washington Post
“It’s not easy to walk the thin line between Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need, but this memoir manages to do so admirably.” —Booklist
“Severgnini is a master . . . Ciao, America! is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsession of our American existence that makes the commonplace seem not only insane but extremely funny.” —Publishers Weekly
“A delightful read, full of wonderful anecdotes that capture the eye-opening absurdity of life in these United States.” —Chicago Tribune
“It would be difficult not to like this delightful book.” —Library Journal