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The Dark Heart of Italy - Tobias Jones

Thursday 13 January 2005

Italy is a beautiful country. Towns and landscapes, food and lifestyles are described by the Italians themselves as troppo bello. Tobias Jones certainly seems to agree with that. As a British citizen, he decided to move to the country when his heart bled for an Italian woman and the book he wrote mainly describes his experiences there.

He quickly becomes extremely attached to the city of Parma, where he since resides ("a town that I can never imagine leaving"). His settling in and job-hunting mainly takes up the first two chapters of the book while the remaining eight chapters delve deeper into the more sinister side of Italian politics. From the anni di piombo (years of lead) and its "civil war" between left and right wing elements to the election of Silvio Berlusconi, Jones makes a very clear analysis of the current situation of Italy.

In the eigth chapter of the book, Jones quotes and article from The Economist : "In any self-respecting democracy it would be unthinkable that the man assumed to be on the verge of being elected Prime Minister would recently have come under investigation for, among other things, money laundering, complicity of murder, connections with the Mafia, tax evasion and the bribing of politicians, judges and the tax-police. But this country is Italy..."

Amusingly enough, ever since the publication of this article in The Economist, Silvio Berlusconi has launched a law-suit against the magazine... (Check the web-site for more info: Berluscastop)

Tobias Jones tries to answer a series of questions: How is it possible that the honest majority can tolerate the lawlessness of the wealthy minority? How can a country allow that the same man can occupy the place of Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Secretary, own six out of seven national television channels, change laws when it is in his interest to do so, be Italy’s wealthiest man (it is estimated that Berlusconi owns $14 billion!)? What type of future awaits a country which seems divided in so many cases (North and South ; left and right), where political debates end in name-calling ("Communist!" versus "Fascist!")?

The answers provided are, for the most part, very satisfying. Tobias Jones searches deeply into the history of Italy. He talks to friends and interviews (a seemingly innocent) prisoner, a neo-Fascist politician (Pino Pinelli) and discusses with extremely macabre football coaches and managers...

Behind all the underlying corruption, dishonesty and the sometimes hostile context, Tobias Jones keeps his eyes open to the beauty of the country. The welcoming and friendly character of the Italian people are described, as is their anger at the situation in their country... a situation that seems to be here to last. One particularly touching moment occurs when the author describes his encounter with one of his old students from Parma: "What are you writing about Zio Tobia?" asks the student. When Jones answers that he is writing about the politics of Italy and Berlusconi (and co.), the student goes red with anger... "That is not fair! It is easy for you Brits to come here and observe the situation. It is easy for you to come here, get shocked and then simply leave to go home! We have to stay in Italy and it is us Italians that have to deal with all of this".

Like Tobias Jones at the beginning of the book, our attitudes are not far off. We read along, page by page, thinking that at least where we live is not so corrupt... and then we think again. I happen to be living in France... and unveiling the dark heart of Italy with Tobias Jones’ help should not lead one to inaction within his or her country. In France there are those who, like those rich Forza Italia politicians, tend to believe that corruption is, if perhaps not a healthy aspect of economic life, certainly a necessity - those who think we can do nothing against the giants. In fact, one could say that The Dark Heart of Italy underlines complacency and acceptance as the core problem of all countries, not just of Italy...

This book is certainly a must-read for anyone who has an interest for Italy. The juggling between historical facts, journalistic description and personal experience makes The Dark Heart of Italy a thouroughly enjoyable read.

Paul Kirkness

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