Allan Massie

The Capotreno’s Song

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

By

Harvill Secker 261pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

There’s an Italian saying, Inglese italianizzato, Diavolo incarnato (‘An Italianised Englishman is the devil incarnate’). It is popular with British expatriates there, because it suggests that with experience of Italy and its people you can always get the upper hand. Actually I think the saying is intended to flatter the Englishman by making him believe he is winning even when he isn’t. Be that as it may, the novelist Tim Parks, who has lived and taught in Italy for more than thirty years, and who is doubtless as thoroughly italianizzato as is possible (even though it still irritates him when people whom he has addressed in fluent Italian choose to reply in English), can yet be driven to fury or despair by the complications of Italian life and the tortuous ways of Italian bureaucracy. Like most foreigners and most Italians too, he must, I suppose, fall back on the three essential words, pazienza, speriamo, magari (‘patience’, ‘hope’, ‘if only’), which in descending order lead you from vague hopeful resignation to acceptance that what you want is forever unattainable.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Something of an 'eccentric billionaire’s hobby': reviews 'The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and… ,
    • "At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come imm… ,
    • For the latest Bookends, here's Alan Taylor musing on his stint as an assistant librarian. ,
    • A ‘pretentious ass and impotent arriviste’ who surrounded himself with ‘degenerates, hooligans, childish layabouts,… ,
    • . reviews 'Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life' by ,
    • "As Beevor shows, it was one of the most daring, dangerous and fiercely fought operations of the whole war. It was… ,
    • "The characters are very rich and very male, with astronomical ambitions. The potted biographies in this book sugge… ,