Friday, May 31, 2013

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti ****

Ambrosio Molinos, a Spanish farmer and storyteller of the pre-industrial oral traditions, founded a successful artisanal cheese company--Paramo de Guzman. The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti tells the story of the founder, how he started and then lost control, and so, so much more. In a post modernist way, the distinction between Ambrosio's story and Paterniti's is constantly blurred both in content and style. For example, Ambrosio's story telling is characterized as digressions within digressions. The book models these digressions with lengthy footnotes which themselves include subsequent footnotes. Both intermingled stories are personal, free ranging, and idiosyncratic.

 The story is full of nostalgia for simpler times, local food, and rural life styles, including a complete description of the cheese making from the choice of pasturage for the sheep, curds and whey, aging the cheese in bodegas dug into the local mountains, through packaging and labeling. Both Ambrosio and the author are interested and discuss at length the relationship between rural citizens such farmers and petty officials, modern actors such as investors and lawyers, and artists. A good example of the latter is a sculptor who is concerned about nothing but carving beautiful statues which the town receives for nothing. In return, the town feeds and clothes the sculptor. Pure art; pure appreciation.

The long history of Castile and Spain plays a important of the narrative. The Story of Spanish by Nadeau and Barlow, which covers the same history from a different point of view, is a good companion read.

I found the eerie mirroring of the Ambrosio and the author, their ambivalent relationship with the past and present, and their tenuous grasp on time and reality, constantly made me read this more as a novel then the memoir it is suggested to be. Even at the end, I still think of this as a quirky novel, but it is an interesting read in either case.

 I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.


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