A witty, cynical, and ultimately charming account by an English expatriate married to a native and trying to raise his children in Italy. Parks (Italian Neighbors, 1992) has lived in Italy for the past decade, teaching English at the University of Verona. The author of seven novels (Shear, 1994, etc.), he brings his perceptive analysis of human nature to bear on the eternally fascinating Italians and their perennially exasperating rules, regulations, and requirements. Here the focus is on his young family: wife Rita and children Michele and Stefania. The author amusingly describes the national obsession with its offspring. In a country with the lowest birthrate in the world (1.3 per family), Italian children are pampered, spoiled, and humored from their very first day of life. For an atheist Englishman, sometimes it all seems too much. It is not only the children who are receiving an Italian education, but Parks himself. Like many others, he discovers, ""The story of my fatherhood has been that of a long strategic retreat from the systems I had hoped to impose."" In the end, his children will succumb to what has been called Italy's ""fatal charm."" This seduction can (possibly) be resisted by adults who scorn the cult of the Madonna, stories of statues that weep blood, and the worship of Mamma. But for Michele and Stefi, Italy is part enchanted playland, part elaborate facade, part intricate labyrinth. As many expatriates have discovered, living in Italy can be overwhelmingly complicated; Parks's short chapters chronicle his adventures with the often absurdly contradictory system of laws governing everything from getting a fishing license to buying a home -- and his discovery of ways to navigate around them. Small vignettes of life, fragments of society, aphorisms of a people and a culture that add up to a thoroughly enjoyable look underneath Italy's tourist facade.