Friday, August 17, 2012

The Broker Learns Broken Italian

The BrokerThe Broker by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think maybe John Grisham bought some Rosetta Stone software to try to learn Italian, got frustrated with it, and then spent the rest of the day imagining a situation in which someone would actually be motivated to learn Italian quickly.  Presto: you have The Broker, in which a felon is pardoned and whisked off to Italy in a sort of ersatz witness-protection operation, where his life depends on passing for a native Italian.  There are pages and pages and pages of description of his Italian lessons and his motivation to learn (he keeps making the tutor start lessons earlier and earlier), and we're inside his head as he recites the Italian word for everything in his apartment.

Now, I like languages and occasionally mumbled some of the words out loud to myself while reading just to test my Italian accent, so I enjoyed the weird preoccupation with learning Italian.  However, you have to admit it's a bizarrely academic preoccupation for a run-for-your-life thriller--especially when, in the context of the story, it's wholly unnecessary to the point of being unbelievable.  Surely if the point is for this American guy to blend in while in hiding, you'd stash him in... Canada, Australia, England?  You know, where the language skills he already has will be useful?  And since it turns out that the US government is just waiting to see whether the Russians, the Chinese, or the Israelis will find and kill the fugitive first, I don't understand why they would bother paying a tutor a full-time salary to teach the guy flawless Italian.  So I'm back to where I started: all I can figure is that Grisham really wanted to write a story about learning to speak Italian.

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