Whether you wish to know all about Rome and its people or you already know it, As the Romans Do, An American Family’s Italian Odyssey by Alan Epstein is the book for you. Titled after a popular saying, or rather, a lifestyle, Epstein’s book is a boisterously funny autobiographical account of what exactly it means to do as the Romans do.
As the Romans Do first struck me with its bright orange cover showing drawings of Rigatoni pasta, coffee cups, and Vespas. I was browsing the non-fiction section of the Anglo American Bookshop in Via della Vite in the very heart of Rome. It was 2pm, I hadn’t had lunch, and I was on foot, so, yes, I was craving all the things on that juicy cover, which is why I might have approached the book hoping they would materialize. But it wasn’t until I discovered the genuineness inside that I knew it was going to be my favorite summer read.
What I instantly appreciated about As the Romans Do was that it was not trying to sell itself like most books in that section. The shelves were packed with all sorts of guides and manuals promising to make you an expert in true Roman culture in no time. Don’t get me wrong: city guides are indispensable when you find yourself in the intricacies of the narrow, stone-paved vie, hopelessly wandering in the vicinity of the Fontana di Trevi with the feeling that your sore feet have walked that exact pavement at least twice in the last five minutes. In fact, despite being born in Rome, I am a proud owner of an extensive guide to Rome and the Vatican, with maps. No guide, however, can accomplish what As the Romans Do does to your understanding of la città eterna and its eternal charm.
“What gives Rome [its] character, what makes Rome, Rome, is a sense of drama, of the theatrical,” writes Epstein in his first chapter. In the course of the book, we encounter plenty of drama indeed. When Ulysses fought the powers of Circe, the sirens’ melody, and the fury of Neptune, he had a less trying time than Epstein on his travels through Italy. Yet a flow of positivity is what accompanies Epstein and his family on their Roman life journey, putting the reader in a good mood through the witty narrative about new discoveries and hilarious (mis)adventures.
Not only did I laugh all the way through, but I also found the book refreshingly realistic. A native Philadelphian, Epstein doesn’t pretend to be omniscient about Italian culture. He sets out to give an honest account of his Italian odyssey and does so superbly, with the competence of an historian and the vibrant view of an insider.
As The Romans Do will provide you with the means to taste Rome beyond its touristic façade, and you will soon discover that knowing the way of Romans has little to do with knowing how to navigate the centro or making a list of places where you can eat spaghetti alla puttanesca (which by the way doesn’t mean what you think it means if you translate it literally). If you are looking for a brilliant, insightful read about Italians and Italian cuisine and, all the while, a delightful angle on the links and the differences between American and Italian lifestyles, don’t hesitate any further. Go and buy this book faster than your gelato can melt.
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