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  • Published: 3 September 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099549420
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $19.99
Categories:

Thin Paths

Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village




Shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Biography Award, the 2012 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and longlisted for the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, this is a moving and fascinating account of the history, landscape and people of a remote village high in the Ligurian mountains.

You come across the shell of a ruined house. It could be anywhere in southern Europe where people once lived and then moved away because there was no work to hold them there. You might find things scattered in the empty rooms: a bread oven, a broken spade, earthenware jars that still hold the pungent scent of olive oil; even clothes left hanging in a cupboard, a silent clock on a shelf, a picture cut from a newspaper pinned on a wall. The house is remote, but it is surrounded by a tracery of thin paths. One path goes steeply down to a village; others zigzag their way to scattered huts and stone shelters, to caves where you could hide in times of danger and to unexpected lookout points from where you could watch the approach of animals or human intruders. Julia Blackburn and her husband moved to a little house in the mountains of northern Italy in 1999. She arrived as a stranger speaking no Italian, but a series of events brought her close to the old people of the village. They began to tell her stories that made the landscape come alive, repopulating it with their vivid memories. Until quite recently most of them had been mezzadri, half-people who were trapped in an archaic feudal system and owned by a local padrone who demanded his share of all they had – even a pretty wife or daughter. They were eager to talk about the old way of life and about how everything changed with the eruption of the Second World War. This village was at the heart of the conflict between the fascists and the partisans, so they learnt a lot about death and fear and hunger and how men and women could hide like foxes in the mountains. ‘Write it down for us,’ they said, ‘because otherwise it will all be lost.’ Thin Paths is a celebration of the songlines of one place that could be many places; it is also a celebration of the humour and determination of the human spirit.

  • Published: 3 September 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099549420
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $19.99
Categories:

About the author

Julia Blackburn

Julia Blackburn is an author and scriptwriter whose radio plays include A Good Death, Betsy and Napoleon, The Need for Nonsense and The Spellbound Horses.

Also by Julia Blackburn

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Praise for Thin Paths

My book of the year. Beautiful, beguiling, memorable

Edmund de Waal

Impossible to forget...beautiful and deeply humane

Sunday Times

Profoundly moving...absorbing...and compassionate... Blackburn writes beautifully and despite its sorrows, Thin Paths is full of humour and pulsating life

Scotsman

Marvellous... Her writing is as eloquent and elegant as ever

Literary Review

A lyrical patchwork of fine-grained nature writing

Independent

Reading Julia Blackburn's account of her life in a remote corner of the Ligurian mountains is like lifting a stone to find a strange, intricate, hidden world...prose that is ruthlessly unsentimental, but full of love

Maggie Fergusson, Intelligent Life

In Liguria Blackburn catches the last survivors, some in their nineties, in time to hear echoes of a culture that is already part of the past

Lee Langley, Spectator

Julia Blackburn's thoughtful book has a poet's direct lyricism...a vivid, moving account

Metro

Blackburn brings her special gift for the art of place to this lyrical account of the Italian mountain village where she and her husband settled. Although she writes superbly about landscape and wildlife, it's her neighbours, and their haunting tales, who make the book sing

i

For anyone who keeps a special book shelf of permanent reading gems, this one deserves consideration. It's not a book that I want to rush, each piece offers much to think about and I want to make this one last so it will be alongside me through the summer an during that armchair trip to Italy and I shall write more eventually.

Dove Grey Reader

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