By Barry Unsworth.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1997. 250 pp.
We tend to think of travel literature as nonfiction—travelogues, guides, histories of countries, memoirs of experiences abroad. But fiction, whether written by natives or foreigners, can offer equal insight into places and cultures, especially when the author is as intelligent and skillful as Barry Unsworth.
Unsworth's twelfth novel, After Hannibal, revolves around six households that share one of Italy's many strade vicinale, or neighborhood roads. The setting is Umbria, near Perugia, in the region where Hannibal ambushed and defeated the Romans, and betrayal is a central theme of the book.
Unsworth touches on the history, art, and the gorgeous landscape of the area as he chronicles the doings of his troubled characters: Monti, a historian who is researching Perugia's history—"a chronicle of crimes"—and obsessing about his wife, who has recently left him; Fabio, a former racing driver—now a farmer—whose young partner has not only left him but has also cheated him out of his farm; and Ritter, a German, who as a child lived in Italy with his Nazi father and is still haunted by the fear that he inadvertently betrayed his best friend, Giuseppe.
Through two foreign couples, Unsworth looks at incomers restoring old houses in Italy, a subject adored by many readers that receives some tough treatment here. Read More