CIAO, AMERICA!: An Italian Discovers the U.S.

Beppe Severgnini, Author
Beppe Severgnini, Author . Broadway $21.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7679-1235-8
Reviewed on: 03/25/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-7679-1236-5
Hardcover - 232 pages - 978-7-5086-2097-8
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From his temporary home in the leafy suburbs of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Italian newspaper columnist Severgnini turns a curious eye toward Americans, their bureaucracy and labor-saving gadgets. With the same critical lens through which he viewed England (in Inglese, which was a bestseller in the U.K.), the reporter sees through all America's gimmicks—the fat-free, guilt-free, buy-now, pay-later mechanics of advanced capitalism—but he is not adverse to her charms. Both repelled and attracted by the wonders of convenience living, he finds a joyous horror in channel-hopping, mall shopping and the pursuit of comfort, in our abuse of English ("La-Z-Boy is a veiled invitation to commit a cardinal sin") and our blatant lack of sartorial know-how ("The President of the United States jogs through the city in shorts that display his milk-white thighs"). In other hands, such a memoir could have been a jingoistic cliché-fest. Severgnini, though, is a master in the vein of Bill Bryson, and his every criticism is matched with admiration. Nor does he spare his own people from his caustic wit—in fact, visiting Italians often come off as badly, if not worse, than his American subjects. The result is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsessions of our American existence that makes the commonplace—be it a fixation with weather statistics or an air-conditioning complex—seem not only insane but extremely funny. (May)

Forecast:Severgnini's take on America will find its hands in the leagues of expats living here, who are desperate to understand and find comfort in their adopted country.

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