Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn
|Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: An evocative and atmospheric look at the people and landscape of a remote village in Liguria. The people will live on in your mind long after you've finished reading.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: July 2011|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
|External links: Author's website|
Julia Blackburn had known Herman for many years, but they had drifted apart. She put the postcard which she received from him in an album: it mentioned a cottage he had discovered in Liguria and which he was renovating. Some time later there was another postcard and an invitation to visit. Over time the cottage would become her home and Herman her husband. 'Thin Paths' is the stories of the people who inhabit this harsh, wild landscape and of the way in which the landscape has formed the people. The thin paths join the people and the places together in a way of life which is rare.
I'm going to get my quibbles about this book out of the way before I go any further. I was pulled up sharp when I read that there were several very old men and women who were well into their ninetieth decade when they finally let go of life of life. (Let me guess - it's the diet?) Then there was a silly typo a little further on and all the while I was looking at the black and white photos which intersperse the text and being regularly unable to work out what they were. Rather than reading confidently I was reduced to reading carefully - and it wasn't a pleasant sensation. After about fifty pages I put the book down and returned to start again a few days later.
I first encountered Julia Blackburn's writing in My Animals and Other Family and I knew that her writing would be a delight. I wasn't disappointed. Her evocation of the wild landscape of Liguria is nothing short of brilliant and was brought home to me most vividly when some of the older people gave directions to Julia and Herman as to how they could get to the villages - now abandoned - where they had grown up but gave the rider that they weren't sure of the way and that the area would have changed so much that they were unlikely to recognise the village even if they could see it again.
She's equally good with people. It was on my second approach to the book that I really looked at the list of people in the story and this really helped me to sort out the relationships. The individual pen portraits of the people of the village are excellent but the combination of them all is far more than the sum of their parts. It builds into a picture of a way of life which is all but lost and an area of countryside which was once populated and is now quickly returning to nature.
Perhaps the most surprising part for me is that the aftermath of the Second World War is still fresh - almost raw - as the older people tell their stories of the atrocities committed by the Fascists and the lengths to which they had to go to evade capture. It's as eloquent a depiction of the long shadow cast by war as you are likely to find.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn at Amazon.com.
Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn is in the Costa Prize 2011.
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