Travel literature review: Thin Paths

Thin Paths — Journeys in and around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Claire Beyer

Julia Blackburn, author of Thin Paths, has an eye for detail. The seemingly small and insignificant are given big lives. The common dormouse, the developing tadpole and vocal owl are all given as much loving attention as her new surroundings in this lovely tale of life in an Italian mountain village.

Blackburn receives an invitation from an old friend/lover to view his newly acquired 'ruin' in the mountains of Liguria, Italy. Herman is a walker. During their many years of friendly correspondence she is the recipient of postcards from all corners of the globe. From the Sinai Desert to the mountains in Corsica, Herman traverses many paths but it is by accident that he stumbles upon a small village in Liguria and it is this particular path that had remained in his mind.

When Blackburn departs from her native England for her first stay with Herman the mountain paths that they immediately begin to explore become a precursor to how her life will continue on its own path. As they settle into village life - and the paths become familiar friends - it is the villagers' stories that begin to truly give the mountains life. The neglected shrines, the falling ruins and rock carvings suddenly begin to make sense and shape the history of their new surroundings.

Blackburn meets Adriana who becomes the first of many villagers to impart their history. There seems to be a catharsis in the retelling of her own and the villagers' stories. During World War II their mountains and village were used by German soldiers who took all that the villagers had, their food, houses and livestock. They also terrorised those thought to be harbouring partisans. Loyal to their community, many had hidden men behind stoves and under floors, risking their lives under terrifying circumstances.

Blackburn writes these stories with such grace and accepts all this knowledge with care and a sense of duty as the villagers' paths become her own. The sense of community and village life are so beautifully evoked and the stories ultimately fascinating and compelling.  This is a highly recommended read.

Claire Beyer is part of the sales team at Lonely Planet’s head office in Melbourne

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