An unabashed celebration of Italian language and culture.
Health writer Hales (Think Thin, Be Thin, 2004, etc.) covers a lot of ground with snapshots of the pinnacles in Italy’s rich cultural history, including literature, opera, sculpture, film and cuisine. The author begins by asserting that she became “madly, gladly, giddily besotted with the world’s most luscious language,” and she makes the dubious assertion flouting Italian as the most emotionally evocative language that best embodies “civilization itself.” Hales is at her best when she describes quirky Italian phrases or words and their possible etymologies. She introduces rare words like colombeggiare (“to kiss one another like doves”), as well as numerous Italian vulgarities like cafone ripugnante (“disgusting boor”). The autobiographical aspect of the book is nearly an afterthought. Moments of description and dialogue with real people seem randomly inserted into chapters, and Hales’s personal reflections re-emerge at the end of each chapter with a revelation that is often unsurprising, cliché and—to quote the author’s description of Petrarch’s more sentimental verses—“saccharine.” The author provides the requisite chapter on Dante, the exalted glimpses of Michelangelo and da Vinci, the biographical adorations of Verdi, Puccini and Mastroianni, and the veneration of Italian love, romance and cuisine. However, Hales charms with a few well-told, sometimes bizarre anecdotes about poets, artists, filmmakers and actors: the terribilità (terrible temper) of Michelangelo, the actor Roberto Benigni’s moving reading of Dante’s Inferno, Fellini’s first job in the circus caring for a sick zebra at ten years old.
A somewhat entertaining but gushing and affected frolic through Italy’s rich linguistic past and present.