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I was thoroughly engrossed by John Hooper’s non-fiction book The Italians. It’s fair to say that I have a special interest in Italy, having spent more time in Italy than any country other than my home country of Australia and my new home in Norway, with a total of 10 weeks spent in Italy (the other countries where I have spent comparable amounts of time have been for work in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and I can honestly state that Italy is more enjoyable!). I have several Italian friends and colleagues and I’ve also read a lot of books by Italian authors and foreigners living in Italy, so I can’t provide an objective perspective on The Italians but I can offer an informed outsider’s perspective.
The book is very well written with every chapter closing with a segue that links it to the next chapter, providing a thread that draws the reader ever onward. It has been carefully edited so that any repetition is deliberate and the book is internally cross referenced and there are few if any typographical errors.
Hooper is careful not to be sensational or salacious in the statements that he makes, he questions and explores clichés rather than blindly adopting them and he attempts to substantiate his statements with evidence from university studies, investigative journalism, economic and demographic data and results of surveys. Don’t worry though because this doesn’t bog down the book or make it boring. Instead the evidence gives the book more interesting points for dinner table discussion.
When a German asked Mussolini if it was difficult to govern the Italians, Mussolini responded, ‘Not at all, it is simply pointless‘
‘Fatta la legge trovato l’inganno‘ as the Italians say: no sooner is a law made than a way around it is found
Elena Ferrante spent a considerable amount of her novels (read my reviews here, here and here) talking about conditions leading up to, during and after the violent protests of 1968, including having a few of her characters travel elsewhere in Europe to participate in other battles. Hooper put those battles into context for me.
Elena Ferrante also talked about the Camorra and the impact on everyday life in countless ways, as did Mary Taylor Simeti in On Persephone’s Island and Hooper also provided insights into the mafia in Italy and the stupendous magnitude of their operations, partly funded (especially the ‘Ndrangheta) by cocaine import from Colombia and Mexico and distribution into Europe.
The judicial system doesn’t work.
In 2012 there was a backlog of 3.4 million criminal cases and 5.5 million civil ones.
The economy is not in a good condition, Italians are not happy, unemployment levels are high, Italians are racist but don’t acknowledge that and life can’t be easy for the 8% of the population born outside of Italy (contributing 12% of the GDP), corruption and organised crime are out of control, the bureaucracy is ridiculous but Hooper is cautiously optimistic. I love being in Italy, spending time with Italians and I’d like to work in Italy someday. I too am optimistic that the relatively new nation can create a new dream and clean away the legacies of the rotten past to build a glorious, efficient, safe and happy new Italy.
Here are some other reviews that I enjoyed reading:
And some Q&A with the author here: http://tuscantraveler.com/2015/rome/tuscan-travelers-picks-the-italians-by-john-hooper/