The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese (Paperback)
August 2013 Indie Next List
“While working in a deli owned by a larger-than-life foodie, a young Michael Paterniti encounters what was then considered the finest cheese in the world - Paramo de Guzman. Too poor at the time to buy a taste, Paterniti instead vows to one day meet this fascinating, magical cheese again. Years later, Paterniti, with family in tow, makes good on his vow by traveling to the rustic Spanish village where the cheese is produced. There we meet Ambrosio, the brilliant, salt-of-the-earth cheesemaker with infectious zest for life and a love for creating something simply and beautifully. Paterniti spends the next decade embedded in the rural village, playing Sancho Panza to the Don Quixote-esque Ambrosia while piecing together a meandering melange of stories about food, flavor, love, loss, betrayal, and revenge. Perhaps in the hands of another author, this book would have become tedious and tiresome, but Paterniti skillfully imparts upon the reader a contagious love for his subject(s). This apparently did not come without struggle, as a large portion of Paterniti's story is about being unable to write the book. Hailing from the world of journalism, the disillusioned Paterniti slowly realizes that he is no longer in a place where deadlines apply - in fact, in this strange little village, time seems to move backward. As a storyteller, Paterniti is forced to adapt - to find a way to tell a story that has seemingly no end. What begins as an investigative journalist's foodie memoir becomes a culture study, a travelogue, a comedy, and an allegory. The Telling Room is about people, farming, and creating something from the earth, and it is also about time and reality, tradition and history, philosophy and thought, writing and storytelling. I got lost in this book. It grabs hold, penetrates, transports, engrosses, and stays with you. Not for a long time has a story lingered like this- all I want to do is talk about it! This book is so big, multifaceted, and intricate that I still find it difficult to call it nonfiction. The Telling Room is a truly unique investment, but one with enormous returns.
- Nick Berg, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI”
— Nick Berg, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
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In the picturesque village of Guzman, 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 Guzman in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale-like 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.
Praise for The Telling Room
"Captivating . . . Paterniti's writing sings, whether he's talking about how food activates memory, or the joys of watching his children grow."--NPR
"A gorgeous and impassioned monument to the art and mystery of storytelling, The Telling Room is rich, funny, humane, devastating, and beautiful. It made me want to applaud, it made me want to cry, it made me want to move to Spain. Michael Paterniti is a genius."--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
"Unforgettable . . . a must-read for all who think of Spain as magical, who consider cheese as the ultimate gift of love, who love stories of betrayal, despair, revenge and redemption."--The Wall Street Journal
"The Telling Room embodies the spirit of slow food and life."--Michael Pollan
"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
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Michael Paterniti is the New York Times bestselling author of Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Harper's, Outside, Esquire, and GQ, where he works as a correspondent. Paterniti has been nominated eight times for the National Magazine Award, and is the recipient of a NEA grant and two MacDowell Fellowships. He is the co-founder of a children's storytelling center in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife and their three children. From the Hardcover edition.
“Captivating . . . Paterniti’s writing sings, whether he’s talking about how food activates memory, or the joys of watching his children grow.”—NPR
“A gorgeous and impassioned monument to the art and mystery of storytelling, The Telling Room is rich, funny, humane, devastating, and beautiful. It made me want to applaud, it made me want to cry, it made me want to move to Spain. Michael Paterniti is a genius.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“Unforgettable . . . a must-read for all who think of Spain as magical, who consider cheese as the ultimate gift of love, who love stories of betrayal, despair, revenge and redemption.”—The Wall Street Journal
“The Telling Room embodies the spirit of slow food and life.”—Michael Pollan
“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
“By the time you hit the tenth page of The Telling Room, you realize you’re in the hands of a storyteller so masterful, emotionally subtle, and smooth that you’re willing to follow him anywhere, even into a cave. And you will.”—The Daily Beast
“Rich and shaggy, full of Castilian-size detours . . . one hugely likable book.”—The Boston Globe
“Exquisite . . . [a] gripping tale. [Grade:] A”—Entertainment Weekly
“Breathtakingly cinematic . . . reads like Bill Buford’s Heat, conveying the passions of both author and subject, but with David Foster Wallace’s gift for digression.”—The Tampa Bay Times
“Paterniti dives deeply into Spain’s political history, the pleasures of craft, and the motives and methods of storytelling itself.”—Harper’s
“Few writers can write about the taste of food with Paterniti’s vibrancy and precision. . . . [He] is a master of finding and telling great stories (the finding, for most writers, often being as difficult as the telling) that appear to be about something small, such as cheese, but are actually about something far larger—in this case, the whole of human existence. . . . As much as The Telling Room is about a Spaniard’s quest to create a cheese that embodies all the love and pain and joy he’s ever known, it’s also the story of a writer’s quest to channel that obsession into the perfect story.”—Esquire
“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
“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
“Michael Paterniti is one of the best living practitioners of the art of literary journalism, able to fully elucidate and humanize the everyday and the epic. In his hands, every subject, every moment of personal or global upheaval, is treated with the same curiosity, respect, empathy, and clear-eyed wisdom.”—Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King