>Marcus of Umbria by Justine van der Leun
I felt the title and the blurb were somewhat misleading as I was expecting more about Justine’s relationship with the dog a female called Marcus, yes really and less about Italian culture. In fact I was unsure if I was even going to like the book as I am not a doggy person and would have been happier had it been publicised as yet another Life in Italy story. As really that is what it is, dressed up as a doggy tale to maybe attract a different readership, no idea why though. It was no surprise to me therefore to read a review where the reader was disappointed as there was too much culture and not enough about Justine’s relationship with Marcus.
Despite not agreeing personally with the way the book has been marketed I did enjoy it especially as there was an awful lot I was able to empathise with as an expat in Italy myself.
Justine whilst on holiday in Italy starts a relationship with a local man, Emanuele, and barely knowing him decides to give up the New York lifestyle that she is already disillusioned with to live with him in Collelungo. His family the Crucianis accept her as one of the family, despite the fact that due to the culture shock she is experiencing she finds it very difficult and never truly feels she belongs. I don’t think Emanuele ever really felt she did either, when you read that he had a key ring engraved with words from a Bob Dylan song as a gift for her. ‘Justine, I love you but you’re strange’
The relationship with Marcus comes about because one of the things that Justine found hard to cope with was the rural Italians behaviour towards their dogs. It is not usually that the dogs are treated cruelly it is just that they are not seen as pets, but as animals that have to earn their keep and certainly would not not allowed indoors. It has been like this for generations and is not something that Justine was likely to be able to change overnight.
Unable to adapt to Italian rural life and realising that she and Emanule, as much as they had been good friends to each other, it was never going to be a lifetime commitment. With the relationship as good as over she makes plans to return to the USA along with Marcus. What a culture shock for her, the dog I mean, that must have been!
Can I recommend this well it really depends what you are expecting. If you are hoping that her relationship with Marcus will be thoroughly explored and that you might actually learn something from the lessons she learnt, you will I think be disappointed. I never did discover what that lesson was. That is No then but Yes if you want to read a story that despite, the title is focused on Justine’s I think realistic portrayal of life in rural Umbria.
For more information including a picture of the village of Collelungo, please visit