Steal You Away by Niccolo Ammaniti
This novel from the pen of the brilliant, young Italian writer of ‘I’m Not Scared’, again focuses in on the choices that everyone consciously or unconsciously make in life. With a cast of very believable characters, the plot rotates around the two main characters of Pietro an eleven year old boy and Graziano, a battle-worn womanizer. Their erratic paths cross in the small town of Ischiano Scalo. Filled with dark humour and tenderness, this story throws a spotlight on the hopes, disappointments and the, often bizarre, reality of the human condition. This a book of real depth, a long way from the idealized version of rural Italy, but it is also easy to read and draws you in like a fishing line. Hopefully we will not have to wait too long before Mr. Ammaniti’s next novel.
Love and War in the Appennies by Eric Newby
In this wonderful story, the late, great, Eric Newby takes the reader back to his experiences in Italy during the World War 2 - from being captured, though his release after the Italian Armistice, and his efforts to escape re-capture. Although the backdrop to this story is the war, Newby focuses in on the heroism shown by the Italians that help him and the rural life he is ’absorbed’ into. Part adventure, autobiography and love story, this excellent tale never fails to ensnare the reader - at once funny and serious, it captures an era of day-to-day uncertainty with grace and humility.
A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby
The second installment of Eric Newby’s Italian memoirs, ‘A Small Place in Italy‘, picks up 20 years after the end of World War 2. After years of dreaming of owning a home in Italy, Eric and wife Wanda finally realise their dream and buy I Castagni (The Chestnuts) a ruined farmhouse on the border of Liguria and Tuscany. Their story captures a time and place beautifully, sharing their trials and tribulations, their friends and frustrations in a witty and warm narrative that will be a joy to anyone who loves rural Italy.
Imperium by Robert Harris
For anyone familiar with Robert Harris’ previous literary outings the style of Imperium will be easily recognizable, for me it is an easy and readable style. Although Imperium is fiction, it's based on the true events and real people who shaped the Roman Empire. I find that digesting ‘history’ in this way is more palatable than straight-forward historical texts, which I often find a little dense and heavy going. I suppose one could label this a historical, political drama, focusing as it does on the rise to fame of the famous orator and lawyer Marcus Cicero. The story is narrated through the eyes of Cicero’s slave/secretary over a period of years, encompassing such roman heavyweights as Crassas, Pompey and Ceasar along the way. The characterization is subtle, especially with regards to Cicero - one minute appearing a paragon of virtue, the next something more sinister and selfish, and in this Harris manages to build an intricate character from his obviously detailed research.
Like its predecessor Pompeii, Imperium re-builds a world we can only imagine with subtlety and realism few writers can manage.