CB Reads Sometimes: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


The other day I was listening to NPR, as we nerds tend to do when we are driving pretty much anywhere, and I heard an interview with author Jess Walter on his new book Beautiful Ruins. At first I was taken in by the description of the story, which combines past and current events to tell the story of a beautiful actress on the movie Cleopatra and how a few small decisions changed the life courses of dozens of people. But as the author spoke more, he described another main character in the book, the area on the Italian coast known as Cinque Terre, and I knew it was a novel I HAD to read.

Fresh off the train

That is a photo of me, just after my arrival in Monterosso in 2004. Moterosso is one of the five small villages that make up Cinque Terre, which is seriously the most magical place I’ve ever been.

View from the Boat

The author, Jess Walter, does take some liberties when describing Cinque Terre, the most obvious being he adds another town to the five that exist in real life. But his descriptions of the villages overlooking the sea as people come in from the boats brought me back to being 21 years old. I was in love with this place. I remember making plans to come back someday and open a seaside souvenir shop. This is still on my life list.


Much of the books most touching scenes take place on the hiking trail that connects the villages to each other. The place is so remote, you can really only get there by train or boat, and once you hike through all five cities, you must take a boat to get back to where you started. I remember getting on the train, and even though I’d been on several trains in my day, we all were squealing with excitement at this old machine, straight out of Harry Potter!

The Harry Potter Train

This book was wonderful, I highly recommend it. The story of the actress and the Italian boy is unexpected and sweet, but when blended with the stories of today’s producers of reality television and a nice little mystery, the whole thing is a lovely departure. Even if you haven’t been, you heart will quickly go to Cinque Terre. If it sees mine, say hello.

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