The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Italy correspondent for The Economist and Southern Europe editor of the Guardian and the Observer, John Hooper writes with authority about a country beset by paradox, where an obsession with bella figura (creating a good impression) goes hand in hand with dietrologia (suspicion of what lies beneath the surface).
Like all attempts to sum up the character of a nation, this one ocasionally falls into generalisations. Italian has no word for accountability, Hooper declares, with a breezy disregard for linguistic processes. But on the whole he avoids such pitfalls, marshalling the evidence with care and paying due regard to the arguments on both sides.
He's particularly good on the political and economic backdrop to modern Italy, the impact of the Vatican on cultural mores and the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies that bedevil every aspect of Italian life. This is a country which responded to administrative over-kill by creating a Ministry of Simplification. It is also the country that gave us both the Renaissance and Silvio Berlsuconi.
Hooper sifts intelligently through its complexities and contradictions. The result is an engaging and entertaining portrait of a country that for hundreds of years has been at the very centre of European identity, even when it has been unsure of its own.