In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as "the telling room." Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets - usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio's cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong ...
By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy talelike place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.
What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he's sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.
Equal parts mystery and memoir, travelogue and history, The Telling Room is an astonishing work of literary nonfiction by one of our most accomplished storytellers. A moving exploration of happiness, friendship, and betrayal, The Telling Room introduces us to Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, an unforgettable real-life literary hero, while also holding a mirror up to the world, fully alive to the power of stories that define and sustain us.
"Michael Paterniti's book starts off with a great premise: to look into the mysteries behind one formidable kind of cheese with origins in a small Spanish village. As the book travels to Catalonia and unearths the history behind the cheese, the reader is treated to some remarkable travelogue with glorious views of the Spanish countryside and its people. Unfortunately the author has drunk the Koolaid to such a large extent that there is not much more than endless praise for this great cheesemaker, Ambrosio. The book feels like a magazine piece that has been forcibly expanded. Sadly the book doesn't live up to the great expectations promised in its subtitle. Sure, this is a fun jaunt through gorgeous Basque country but be prepared for endless digressions. Maybe that's the point of the book: in The Telling Room stories unfold and unwind without a fixed goal in mind. If you're up for it, the book is for you. If you're looking for a tightly edited story that lives up to its premise, look elsewhere." - Poornima, Apte, BookBrowse
"Starred Review. Paterniti's zestful storytelling carries us along on a delightful journey through a village rich with the traditions of food and family." - Publishers Weekly
"Starred Review. Enriched by Paterniti's singular art of storytelling, this is a deeply satisfying voyage across a remarkable landscape into the mysteries and joys of the human heart." - Kirkus
"For my money, Paterniti is one of the most expansive and joyful writers around- big-hearted and humane and funny. This book is a wild and amazing ride." - George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
"Elegant, strange, funny, and insightful, The Telling Room is a marvelous tale and a joyful read, a trip into a world peopled by some of the most remarkable characters - and, yes, cheese - in memory." - Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
"The list of writers I would read even if they were to write about a piece of cheese has always been short, but it includes Michael Paterniti. He has proved here that if you love something enough and pay a passionate enough attention to it, the whole world can become present in it. That's true of both the cheese and the book." - John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
"An amazing achievement, The Telling Room is an inspired, masterly epic that expands and refigures the parameters of the storyteller's art."- Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
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Michael Paterniti won the 1998 National Magazine Award for his article "Driving Mr. Albert," which was first published in Harper's Magazine. A former executive editor of Outside, his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Details, and Esquire, where he is writer-at-large. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and son.
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