Dances with Luigi

Paul E. Paolicelli, Author Thomas Dunne Books $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-25188-8
Heartfelt but unfocused, Paolicelli's memoir recounts the television journalist's trip to Italy, where he hoped to find out more about his family's history and an estranged relative. In 1991, after a year of Italian lessons, Paolicelli's vague yearning to know more about his immigrant grandparents gave way to action when he found out he could gain a European passport if he located his grandfather's Italian birth certificate. A 40-something bachelor, Paolicelli decided to take the money he'd been saving for the education of his non-existent children and go live in Rome. Throughout Paolicelli's adventures, his neighbor, Luigi, serves as his guide around Rome and Italy in general, but the author takes an unusual liberty with this character. Though Luigi is based on Paolicelli's real-life neighbor, Paolicelli declares at the beginning of his book that ""the character of Luigi"" is actually a composite, one that the author sometimes uses as a mouthpiece to express ""the contemporary Italian view."" When Paolicelli does track down some relatives, his emotions are poignant, if predictable: anger that his grandparents were kept illiterate by a faulty educational system; shock at hearing the familiar sounds of their local dialect. There are also plenty of anecdotes about Italian culture--including one concerning a restaurateur in rural Abruzzi who raises the very lamb he serves, and another about the incredible cliff-side homes of the Sassi di Matera. But Paolicelli's long slog through Italian bureaucracy quickly grows as trying for the reader as it does for him, and his narrative has a tendency to ramble without providing the kind of historical context that would make this book appeal to a wider readership. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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