The Dark Heart of Italy Review ~ Romancing Italy
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Nov 7, 2009

The Dark Heart of Italy Review

It's possible to be curious about a book, then be angry because of it, angry AT it, not be able to put it down and at the end, be close to loving it. This was my experience with "The Dark Heart of Italy" by Tobias Jones.

The title alone attracted me, thinking it held stories of the organized crime families of the south. Then the words "This is the book to take on your Italian holiday" (Conde Nast Traveller) caught my eye and killed that idea.

Many of us, myself included, come to Italy because of the beauty of the country and the lifestyle we've all heard about. Most of us come only for a short vacation and leave glowing, armed with tales of the adventure and perhaps a joke or two about Italian bureaucracy the long wait at the Post Office.

What's fine for a vacation can be frustrating for daily life so if this book was to give some insight into the internal workings of the country I love, I wanted to know. And open my eyes it did. At first I was upset because I realized just how much this country is messed up. It starts from above and trickles down to affect everyone one way or another.

And then I found I couldn't leave the book alone, not because Tobias Jones writes candidly and easily about subjects that would otherwise confound me, but because he wrote about things that many coming to Italy would experience, but not know why it was the way it was.

TV, soccer, women, politics ...we never think of the swirling, murky waters passing just under the pretty surfaces. It's hard to say where there is good or bad as parts of the governing bodies are corrupt, and perhaps right up to the very top.

It was disheartening to see my Italy of golden and burnt sienna hues, dotted with greens and backed by blue with such a rotten center. But with that death came a new beginning. Despite all the corruption, the people you and I meet on a daily basis, or on vacation, still have the element that makes Italy beautiful.

It's not only the countryside, the ancient ruins or the beauty of the marble and stone that makes Italy attractive, it's the people and how they live. They make Italy intimate and warm, inviting and irresistible; what Jones calls "street-level humanity". It's the people who build friendships that last a lifetime, who take the time to talk on the side walk, who meet in the same place for years without prior agreement, who are willing to trust a stranger and include her in their community.

And damn, I fall in love with Italy all over again.


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