cover image A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea

A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea

John Keahey, Author Thomas Dunne Books $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-24205-3

Under the spell of George Gissing's 1901 travelogue By the Ionian Sea, Keahey decided to retrace Gissing's footsteps through southern Italy to record the changes that have marked the region. As practicable as this premise is, it carries a major flaw: although Gissing's work has rarely been out of print since its initial publication and its author is the subject of a quarterly journal, By the Ionian Sea is not widely known. So Keahey repeats large chunks of the original text, giving his own work a secondary-source feel compounded by his recaps of several other prominent books about Italy, such as Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli. By placing himself in such illustrious company, Keahey inadvertently drives home the shortcomings of his own account. His prose, though pleasantly conversational, does not match Gissing's, and his overfamiliar observations lack a certain depth (Naples is an exciting but dangerous city; southern Italy bears severe economic problems; etc.). Nonetheless, Keahey distinguishes himself by leading readers on a detailed trip through an area few tourists visit: Calabria, with its scattering of small towns running from mountain to sea. Fans of Gissing may delight in this travel memoir, but Keahey won't create new fans among those unfamiliar with that author. (July)