Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Report Tuesday: Marcus of Umbria

Title: Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught and American Girl About Love

Author: Justine van der Leun

Genre: Travel Memoir

Synopsis: Tired of laboring in city cubicles, Justine van der Leun sublets her studio apartment, leaves her magazine job, and moves to Collelungo, Italy, population: 200. There, in the ancient city center of a historic Umbrian village, she sets up house with the handsome local gardener she met on vacation only weeks earlier. This impulsive decision launches an eye-opening series of misadventures when village life and romance turn out to be radically different from what she had imagined. Love lost with the gardener is found instead with Marcus, an abandoned English pointer that she rescues.

With Marcus by her side, Justine discovers the bliss and hardship of living in the countryside: herding sheep, tending to wild horses, picking olives with her adopted Italian family, and trying her best to learn the regional dialect. Not quite up to wild boar hunting, no good at gathering mushrooms, and no mamma when it comes to making pasta, she never quite fits in with the locals who, despite their differences, take her in as one of their own. The result is a rich, comic, and unconventional portrait about learning to live and love in the most unexpected ways. (from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I studied abroad in Umbria and I am obsessed with my dog. It was like this book was marketed specifically for me.

My Review:  Perhaps I am too familar with the topic, and that is why I was let down by this book. I expected more information about Italy and more about Justine's relationship with Marcus. Still the book is an entertaining, light read. I probably would have loved it, had I read it before I spent four months in Italy. Justine's stories about the tiny town of Collelungo and its inhabitants succeed in capturing the image of rural Italy.

Food plays a big role and she comes to appreciate the completeness and simplicity of Italian cooking, as well as a love for eating local. Italians are all about eating the best and freshest foods. They are also very proud of not only their country but of their region, town, and family. So, of course, the best tomatoes come from their own garden and the best wine from their neighbor's grapes.

The book begins with Justine searching for her dog, Marcus, who she finds in a neighbor's yard. A neighbor's chicken clamped firmly in her mouth. I had to laugh at that.

The town I studied in, Perugia, is about 40 minutes from Collelungo. Though the center of Perugia is vastly more populated than Collelungo, the surrounding countryside is not.

My friend Laura divides her time between Pennsylvania and Perugia where, with her boyfriend, she runs a farmhouse hostel for traveling students and visiting friends, like me. During my last visit in April 2010 we took a long walk through the countryside complete with plastic cups of white wine and a cute Italian dog named Diana. Yes, Diana, as in the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, more widely known by her Greek name, Artemis. 

Like Marcus, Diana had previously been caught slaughtering the neighbor's chickens. So when we lost sight of Diana on our walk, Laura feared she was on such a mission. We shouted for her and whistled to no avail. Finally we heard barking.

Diana had found her way into the neighbor's yard. A fenced yard. Naturally the fence was locked. She must have snuck in behind an entering car, but we were too late and the gate had closed automatically. So we were reduced to shouting loudly in Italian for the owner to come out.
Meanwhile, the owner of the house had a small terrier which was barking like mad to alert everyone in a five mile radius of the intruder. Diana paid this dog no mind whatsoever. Though she drank its water and stole a sizable dog treat directly from its bowl.

We weren't too mad. Probably because of the aforementioned plastic cups of wine. Then again, it could just have been her adorable face. Look how happy she is after her adventure. Even Laura who carried her 25 pound dog back through the picturesque countryside isn't annoyed. Rather she was glad Diana didn't kill any chickens.

Recommendation: Anyone with an interest in Italy and dogs would find this an entertaining read.

Next Week: Back to fiction, beyond that I have no idea.

1 comment:

  1. New follower here (via Shannon Messenger).

    Nice to meet you, Monica!