Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Edoardo Nesi, Story of my people

OK, so I said I would review this, so here I go.

This is a short book about the author and his family, who established and ran a textile business in Prato, near Florence, a town heavily specialized in the sector. Edoardo, who is also an author, sold the business and then wrote this book about it. Big deal, huh? Well, it is a big deal.

Prato has had a vocation for commerce and international trade for centuries. Iris Origo wrote of this in the masterful The Merchant of Prato, about 14th-century tradesman Francesco di Marco Datini. In his short (I read it in one sitting) and rather breezy book, Nesi chronicles the demise of his own family's involvement in the textile industry as a reflection of the changes that Italy in general and Prato in particular are undergoing as part of globalization. The town has been nearly crushed by the influx of Chinese sweatshops locally and the role of Chinese manufacture in China, as I already reported on the pages of this illustrious blog a few years back.

This is a flawed book, but one worth reading, especially for non-Italians who are not aware of the epoch-making changes now occurring in the country. It is mostly flawed by Nesi's jejune (haven't used that one in a while) obsession with all things American, with frequent digressions about himself and the States. Even the title comes from Fitzgerald. And yet what is lacking is particularly historical depth, which might have been accomplished by bringing up Francesco di Marco Datini instead of, say, Richard and Mimi Farina. Only this would truly honor the title, and give it the gravitas it deserves.

It was interesting for me to see that Italians have trashed the book on Italian Amazon, giving it 2 stars. Some of this is hostility toward the privileged Nesi, who is protected from the current severe crisis, and some of it is quick to assume that an account such as this is racist and in search of a scapegoat for Italy's woes. With its shortcomings, I can still recommend it, because all of Italy's heritage of artisanship (including gastronomic) is under serious threat at this point, and this small, imperfect work serves to bring home this tragic fact.