Following his grim, medieval Morality Play (1995) with a more delicate modern work, Unsworth makes the most both of his Booker Prizewinning talents and the Italian countryside he now calls home to offer an homage to Umbria and a skewering of the motley multinational crew who've taken up residence there. The Chapmans are British; the Greens, American; Blemish, British; Ritter, German; Arturo and Fabio, from the south; Monti, from the north; while Mancini, like God, has no place of origin- -leaving the three Checchetti as the only ones with roots in the richer ocher of the Umbrian soil. But the locals are a conniving lot who approach the Chapmans to ask for reparation when the Chapmans' garden wall collapses into the road shared by all, blaming their expatriate neighbors' moving-truck traffic for the damage. As Cecilia and Harold consult their attorney, Mancini, the elderly Greens, who need to renovate their old farmhouse, are being hoodwinked by the lugubrious Blemish, who intends to fleece them for all they're worth as their ``project manager.'' Ritter, meanwhile, his interpreting career ending in a breakdown, is meticulously clearing his bramble-choked land, work that looses a flood of childhood memories of Rome, where his father was a Nazi intelligence officer in WW II. Fabio is about to be duped into turning over to Arturo the deed to the house he and Arturo have shared for 15 years, only because Arturo is now eager to be gone, while Monti, a professor of Italian history from Turin, loses himself in the regional intrigues spanning blood-soaked centuries after his wife leaves him. For one and all, moments of crisis prove cathartic, and more often than not, the ageless, serenely just Mancini has a hand in guiding the outcome. As if for just a change of pace, Unsworth offers this gentle sendup of the ongoing drive to colonize pastoral Italy. But the exquisitely evoked Umbrian landscape that serves as backdrop for these petty squabbles and personal dramas is the real draw here.
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