cover image The Hero’s Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna

The Hero’s Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna

Tim Parks. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-86684-1

A pilgrimage in the footsteps of Italy’s national hero grounds a meditation on the country’s character in this soulful historical travelogue. British novelist and Italophile Parks (Italian Ways) retraces the 400-mile-long retreat of revolutionary general Giuseppe Garibaldi from Rome to the Adriatic coast in 1849, during which he lost his army of 4,000 men to desertion, fighting, and capture by French, Spanish, and Austrian forces. His vivid retelling casts the history in a romantic light, as he recounts how Garibaldi held together his volunteers with the dream of Italian nationhood, and the assistance of his magnetic wife, Anita, who died at their journey’s end. Parks weaves in a disenchanted modern counterpoint as he and his partner trudge alongside roads full of roaring traffic and encounter industrial blight next to avant-garde art parks and touristy cafés (“The garibaldini would have been out of town in a matter of minutes, whereas we’re still walking through a suburban haze of carbon monoxide after two and a half hours”). Contrary to Garibaldi’s vision of generous, liberal solidarity, Parks’s Italy often feels atomized, alienated, and resentful of immigrants. Even so, Parks’s elegant, wry prose saves the story from tipping into despair. This gripping account of Italy’s visionary past serves as a revealing window into its clouded present. (July)