Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review of "My Italian Bulldozer" by Alexander McCall Smith

Paul, a Scotsman who writes popular books about food and wine, is down in the dumps. His long-time girlfriend Becky has left him for her personal trainer, and Paul is brooding about the betrayal - and falling behind on his new manuscript. To get Paul back on track his editor, Gloria, convinces Paul to go to Italy to finish his book. Gloria makes all the arrangements and Paul is soon flying to Pisa, where he'll pick up a rental car and drive to Montalcino - a hill town in Tuscany.

As things turn out Paul's hire car isn't available and he ends up renting a bulldozer. Of course a man meandering along country roads on a bulldozer is quite unique, and Paul is soon having novel experiences and making new acquaintances. Before long Paul is settled into his Tuscan hotel and - between drinking coffee in cafés, dining in fine restaurants, roaming around town, and chatting with Montalcino natives - makes good progress on his book.

As part of his research, Paul visits a winemaker called Tonio, who sadly explains that he can't market his 'Rosso di Montalcino' as famous 'Brunello' wine because he's just outside the production zone. Tonio also tells Paul about his famous ancestors (a claim pooh-poohed by the townsfolk) and serves a country lunch of Tuscan bean soup, pasta laced with garlic, and wild boar.

On his way home from the winery Paul assists a pretty American art historian named Anna, whose car is in a ditch. Paul and Anna have interesting, intellectual conversations and share a lovely meal, and Paul is smitten..... though Anna seems to be spoken for.

Paul is starting to get his ex-girlfriend Becky out of his system when she sends a message saying she's coming to visit. Hearing about this, Paul's editor hurries to Tuscany as well - fearing Becky might distract the writer from his work. So Paul is soon dealing with a bevy of women, to the amusement of the villagers - who didn't think the 'English' were so colorful.

In the course of the story the author describes the beautiful Tuscan countryside as well as Italian wines.....and foods such as fagioli con salciccia (beans with sausage), pecorino nero (cheese made from the milk of black sheep), papa al pomodoro (a garlicky tomato dish served with stale bread), and a picnic of salami and olives.

By the end of the tale Paul has finished his book, made new friends, and helped the vintner Tonio. He's also in love, and picturing a cruise down Venice's Grand Canal on a working barge.....complete with crane.

The book is a pleasant read but seems more like a travelogue than a novel. Still, I enjoyed the story and the quirky characters. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith would probably like the book.

Rating: 3 stars

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