Pinocchio Army
Photo by photonooner used under a Creative Commons license.

Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio (NYRB, 2008).
You may think you know the story of Pinocchio, but likely what you know is Walt Disney’s 1940 film adaptation. This is a Geoffrey Brock’s new translation of the original book, with a brief introduction by Umberto Eco and a longer afterword by Rebecca West. As translated by Brock, Collodi’s original is very different from the 1940 Walt Disney film — it is more complex and it lacks the sentimentality, but it races along nicely.  I would say it’s darker than the Disney film, but West’s afterword points out that all but twelve minutes of the film take place at night or in the dark.  Suffice it to say that Collodi’s story is no cartoon.

Google Books lets you take a look. NPR has an excerpt from the first chapter. Here is Wikipedia’s page on Carlo Collodi, the pen name (after the Tuscan town) of Carlo Lorenzini. Wikipedia’s page about the book is worthwhile. Here is Brock’s bio. Tim Parks’ long review in The New York Review of Books is worth reading.  He says Brock conveys Collodi’s zany spirit of Tuscan humor, a Pincchio who swings alarmingly between lies and candor, generosity and cruel mockery, good intentions and zero staying power. You can also listen to an interview with Parks. The NYRB Classics Editor, Edwin Frank, calls it a brilliant evocation of the promise and precariousness of childhood, when the world is both new and immemorial and everything is possible and yet, because one is a child, nothing is. John Powers says the book’s reality reflects the harshness of life in Collodi’s Tuscany, a place driven by hunger, brutality, greed, and social injustice. Chelsea Bauch (Boldtype) says Brock revives Collodi’s sardonic wit and pitch-black humor. Cathleen Medwick (O) calls it a tale of gumption and greed. Elizabeth was disappointed initially, and surprised that that her expectations did not match what she was reading. Jennifer says it’s both an adventure story and a moralistic tale. Bob Rini has some neat links. Here is a 1927 translation (by an unidentified translator) with illustrations by Frederick Richardson. Here is the original trailer for the Disney movie. If you’re in Tuscany, you can visit Parco di Pinocchio di Collodi.

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A new day in Tuscany
Photo by andrew chang used under a Creative Commons license.

Ferenc Máté, The Hills of Tuscany (Albatross, 1998).
In the late 1980s, Máté and his wife decided to relocate from New York to Tuscany, knowing little Italian and giving themselves four weeks to find a house. They moved into a well-worn farmhouse called La Marinaia not far from the town of Montepulciano, and began to settle into a new life in an old place. This book is the story of their first year there: buying a house, meeting neighbors, shopping in Montepulciano. The house comes with land fit for grape vines, and they learn to gather mushrooms in the woods nearby. Food and drink receive much attention. Máté is certainly enthusiastic, the danger being that you, too, will want to move to the Tuscan hills.

Here is Máté’s site, which has all sorts of stuff on it, including photos of Tuscany. Here is a podcast with him. Entertainment Weekly‘s Megan Harlan was not fond of the awkward, purplish prose. It’s on Faith Harper’s list of books about living in Italy. Alessandra Stanley (The New York Times) says Máté is a copycat of Frances Mayes (ouch — but I haven’t read Mayes, so I have no idea). It’s one of Tea’s favorite foodie books. For Loily, the book was research for a dream of living there. Máté’s second book about Tuscany, A Vineyard in Tuscany, receives much more attention on the web, for whatever reason.

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Lisbon Windows
Photo of Lisbon Windows by david ian used under a Creative Commons license.

Robert Wilson, The Company of Strangers (Harvest, 2002).
Andrea Aspinall, a English mathematician and spy, meets Karl Voss, a double agent in the German Legation to Portugal, one of the few neutral countries in Europe throughout World War II. When they meet, the Allied landings in Normandy and Hitler’s atomic weapons programs are the backdrop. Their affair may be brief, but its effects last long into the Cold War, and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Wilson, an Englishman, lives in Lisbon. More of a spy novel that some of his earlier works.

Reviews from Mostly Fiction, Curled Up, Marilyn Stasio (The New York Times) (scroll down), J. Kingston Pierce at January (scroll down) and his blog, Marius Silke (iVenus), and Erica Hanson.

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Photo of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi by IceNineJon used under a Creative Commons license.

Tim Parks, Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (Atlas Books, 2005).
This is an account of the rise and fall of the Medici family during the fifteenth century, with an emphasis on the banking activities that made the family’s fortune. The family’s financial acument let them buy political power, and the demands of power eventually came at the expense of the bank. Park’s explanations of fifteenth-century banking are quite good. With the Church’s ban on usury, rewards must be earned through exchange and trading instead of interest. Notwithstanding the sub-title, there is much more about banking (and politics) than there is about metaphysics, and he discusses art mostly to document Medici donations. The subject matter is enough for several longer books, but this is a worthy introduction for those unfamiliar with Republican Florence. Parks, who has written many novels and lives in Italy, writes in an easy style which might strike some readers as too colloquial.

On his website, Tim Parks writes about how he came to the project. Parks discussed the book with Andrew Lawless at Three Monkeys Online. Wikipedia provides a short biography of Cosimo de’ Medici. Simon Young reviews the book at The Independent and Blogcritics Magazine. The former review is longer; the latter less critical. Alexander Rose reviews the book for the National Review. James Buchan reviews the book for The New York Observer. Edmund Fawcett reviews the book for The Guardian (UK). Mark Bernstein blogs about it, as does Wilson Hsieh.

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Photo of Florence by cfwee used under a Creative Commons license.

Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence (Harcourt, 1963).
After a brief nod to modern Florence and its residents, McCarthy dives into Renaissance Florence, and particularly its art, architecture, and turbulent politics. Florentine artists like Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Michelangelo walk the pages of this book. I wish I had read it before my last trip to the Uffizi Gallery. Readers unfamiliar with Renaissance Florence may struggle to follow along, as McCarthy has not written a conventional history.

Wikipedia’s bio of McCarthy is here. You can purchase an audio guide to McCarthy’s Florence here. In 1963, McCarthy reviewed William S. Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, and in 1969 she reviewed George Orwell’s collected essays and letters.

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