Off the Rails : A Train Trip Through Life
by Severgnini, Beppe

The popular columnist and best-selling author of Ciao, America! presents a lively collection of travel tales that explore his longtime obsession with trains and what his rail journeys have taught him about culture and identity.

Beppe Severgnini is an acclaimed columnist for Italy's largest circulation daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera. A longtime Italian correspondent for the Economist, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Among his books are La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, Mamma Mia!: Berlusconi's Italy Explained for Posterity and Friends Abroad, and the international bestseller Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. He lives with his family outside of Milan.

Severgnini's (Ciao, America!, 2002) love affair with trains is as long as the Trans-Siberian Railway. Longer, perhaps. Of the nine rail journeys he chronicles here, two traverse the U.S., an endlessly renewable mystery. Crossing Australia, east to west, Severgnini meets many immigrant Italians relaying a universal experience: no longer completely Italian, they don't quite feel Australian, either. Somewhat surprisingly, Severgnini takes his first long trip in his own country-and is happy that on the first day, he only misses two trains in the span of one morning. The trip occurs on the eve of an election, and Italy's tortured political past gets full treatment. On a second trip, leaving Naples en route to London, he brings along a bobblehead Donald Trump doll (who rides for free). Fellow travelers respond much as one might expect. And, yes, he takes a trip on the Trans-Siberian. Wry observations and gentle humor abound in addition to elegiac writing on trains and train travel. In order to experience the world, looking around is a duty. Indeed. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

A collection of an Italian journalist's railway journeys.Severgnini (La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, 2006, etc.) clearly loves trains, as these scattershot accounts of his railroad excursions attest. He spent his honeymoon on the Trans-Siberian Express, which runs more than 5,500 miles, and, due to a booking error, they shared a second-class sleeping compartment with two Russian strangers. "I'm not an idiot," the author insists. "I had reserved a first class compartment so as to be alone with my bride but the Russians screwed us." Recalling this "remarkable journey," he writes, "if your wife is still smiling when you reach Beijing station, she's an extraordinary woman, and you did the right thing by marrying her." Unfortunately, readers will manage barely a chuckle, and there isn't much detail on what makes the journey remarkable. The book is essentially an extended journal. Severgnini dismisses each day of the trip with little more than a few paragraphs, and he compresses his accounts of the other excursions to a page or two of matter-of-fact encounters and experiences. The opening is one of the longer trips (and chapters): The author details his cross-country trip through the United States with his 20-year-old son, introducing him to many places the author was revisiting, having seen them first when he was living and working in America. Yet the pair traveled almost half of the 5,000 miles by car or bus, and the son was of an age where he and has father didn't talk much. Some of the author's excursions included a video crew, and these pieces read like program notes. A couple of the trips paired Severgnini with a German counterpoint, leading to a compare and contrast of cultures. One purported to be taking the pulse of America before an election, while another did the same for Italy. "I decide to buttonhole the entire carriage…for an impromptu opinion poll: how's Italy doing?" The response is inconclusive. Reading like n otes toward a more in-depth book on train travel, the narrative requires fuller-fleshed characters and experiences. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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