A Book About a Dog with a Happy Ending

A couple of times a year, Jen Lancaster posts a list of books that she thinks you should read on her blog. That’s where I first heard about Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl About Love by Justine van der Leun.

Jen Lancaster is a lover of dogs and she promised a lovely dog-centric story. I’ve had this book on my list for about 2 years. I finally read it because I came across it at the library last week. Completely accidental, it just jumped out at me. Sometimes that happens.


So Justine is working at magazines in New York and she just gets burnt out because people are assholes and sometimes it’s hard to work with them. She is invited to stay with a friend’s friend in Italy for a month and she ends up meeting a terribly unsuitable guy and after the month is up she only returns to the States to wrap things up before returning to Italy to be with him.

Justine knows pretty much right from the start that a life with Emmanuele is totally out of the question. He’s country, she’s city; he always wants to be around his family and friends, she’s an only child of a single parent and likes her alone time. She is taken into the family unit without question but she feels kind of ‘other.’ It isn’t until she finds a dog in the barn on the family farm that she feels like she’s found a soulmate.

So I was expecting a lovely dog-centric story, kind of like Marley and Me but without the whole dog-dying thing at the end (I still can’t even with that ending). And yes, in the end we did get that. But the journey had a lot of detours. First of all, Jen Lancaster did not prepare me for the attitude that rural Italians have to dogs. Country dogs in Umbria apparently live for about 3 years, they are seen more as livestock and no one thinks anything of taking them out to the woods and shooting them, or leaving them tied up all the time or leaving them to starve in a barn. That’s where Marcus was when Justine found her. Emmanuele’s brother Ettore had been given a pair of Pointer puppies about 8 months earlier and 2 weeks before Justine found Marcus, Ettore had been taking the pair of puppies to the woods to shoot them when his father said that Marcus looked like she would be ok.

He was going to shoot puppies.

This book was hard to read. And I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t want to read about starving dogs and people hitting horses, or the slaughter of the lambs. Although the author found her time in Italy, in a farming community, brought her closer to the idea of her food and where it comes from, I just found it icky. I want to save all the Italian dogs. And the horses. Somehow reading about cruel people doing unspeakable things to other people is easier than reading about someone starving a dog. You know the way a dog looks at you, like you’re the best person in the world? How can a person do anything other than love and care for and protect that? I can’t understand it.

In the end, it’s all good but not what I expected. I will say that van der Leun is an excellent writer, and the book is full of all kinds of wry observations about life and love. I think I just got distracted by the rampant animal cruelty.

I’ve had kind of a lacklustre run of late. I need to shake up my book mojo! I’m working on Kim Izzo’s My Life in Black and White and so far it’s capturing my imagination. Any other books I should read that will bring back the book magic?

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