A collection of an Italian journalist’s railway journeys.
Severgnini (La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, 2006, etc.) clearly loves trains, as these scattershot accounts of his railroad excursions attest. He spent his honeymoon on the Trans-Siberian Express, which runs more than 5,500 miles, and, due to a booking error, they shared a second-class sleeping compartment with two Russian strangers. “I’m not an idiot,” the author insists. “I had reserved a first class compartment so as to be alone with my bride but the Russians screwed us.” Recalling this “remarkable journey,” he writes, “if your wife is still smiling when you reach Beijing station, she’s an extraordinary woman, and you did the right thing by marrying her.” Unfortunately, readers will manage barely a chuckle, and there isn’t much detail on what makes the journey remarkable. The book is essentially an extended journal. Severgnini dismisses each day of the trip with little more than a few paragraphs, and he compresses his accounts of the other excursions to a page or two of matter-of-fact encounters and experiences. The opening is one of the longer trips (and chapters): The author details his cross-country trip through the United States with his 20-year-old son, introducing him to many places the author was revisiting, having seen them first when he was living and working in America. Yet the pair traveled almost half of the 5,000 miles by car or bus, and the son was of an age where he and has father didn’t talk much. Some of the author’s excursions included a video crew, and these pieces read like program notes. A couple of the trips paired Severgnini with a German counterpoint, leading to a compare and contrast of cultures. One purported to be taking the pulse of America before an election, while another did the same for Italy. “I decide to buttonhole the entire carriage…for an impromptu opinion poll: how’s Italy doing?” The response is inconclusive.
Reading like notes toward a more in-depth book on train travel, the narrative requires fuller-fleshed characters and experiences.