Po:  Books and Videos


The Betrothed; Alessandro Manzoni (1827).  A love story set against the historic backdrop of 17th century Lombardy, this novel is required reading for all Italian school children.  The first major novel in what has become modern Italian, its literary importance cannot be underestimated.  It is, however, very long.

The Garden of the Finzi Contini, Giorgio Bassani.  Set on the eve of World War II in the city of Ferrara, this bittersweet novel is a stunning document of the sad abuses inflicted on Jewish families during the reign Mussolini.  The film is also stunning, if a bit slow.

***Italian Neighbors, Tim Parks.  To my way of thinking this is the best and the smartest of the many books by English-speaking ex-pats living in Italy.  Parks, who lived near Vicenza, understands the Italians, perhaps better than they understand themselves.  I also like his newish Italian Ways, about the trains and how they reflect social attitudes in Italy.  Park’s Italian Education is also good.  Yes, I’m a Tim Parks fan.

Benevolence and Betrayal:  Five Italian Jewish Families under Fascism, Alexander Stille.  This book pairs nicely with the fictional Garden of the Finzi Contini, and fits into the current wave of investigation into the Church’s role--or lack thereof—in the deportation of Jews during the war.  One chapter follows a Jewish family in Ferrara.

A Renaissance Tapestry, Kate Simon.  Here is a wonderful history of Mantua’s Gonzaga family, one of the power brokers in the Italian Renaissance.  While tracing specifically the political events of one family, Simon provides a wonderful look into16th century courtly life in general and into the ways in which the Gonzagas interacted, warred, and married among the Borgia, D’Este, and Sforza families.  Out of print but readily available used on Amazon.

**Leonardo’s Swan by Karen Essex is a historically faithful novel based on the lives of two 15th-century sisters:  Isabella and Beatrice D’Este, both of whom married into noble families and play heavily throughout our trip.

**Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant is another well researched historical novel about a convent in Ferrara in the 16th century, at a time when the Vatican was cracking down severely on the conduct of nuns.  It’s an interesting window on cloistered lives and also on the position of women in renaissance society.


I am Love is a film staring Tilda Swinton and set in the marvelous Villa Necchi in Milan.  Indeed, when I saw the film back in 2010, I was mostly struck by the house, and determined to find a way to visit it.  Which I did, and which you will on our trip.  The movie itself is good but I didn’t love it.

Human Capital is an excellent "neo-noir" set in, quite honestly I don’t know which Northern Italian city.  Milan?  Turin?  In any event, this is a griipping film that examines class dissonance in Italian society.