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The Telling Room

Cover of The Telling Room

The Telling Room

A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAME ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPREntertainment WeeklyKirkus ReviewsThe Christian Science MonitorIn the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug...More
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAME ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPREntertainment WeeklyKirkus ReviewsThe Christian Science MonitorIn the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug...More
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Description-
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    NAME ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    NPR

  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Kirkus Reviews
  • The Christian Science Monitor

    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 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.
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    1991
    "It sat silently, hoarding its secrets."

    This particular story begins in the dusky hollows of 1991, remembered as a rotten year through and through by almost everybody living, dead, or unborn. I'm sure there were a few who had it good, maybe even made millions off other people's misfor- tune, but for the rest of us, there wasn't a glimmer. January dawned with tracers over Baghdad, the Gulf War. It was a bad year for Saddam Hussein and the Israeli farmer (Scud missiles, weak harvest), the Polit- buro of the Soviet Union (dissolved), and the sawmills of British Co- lumbia (rising stumpage fees, etc.). An estimated one hundred and fifty thousand people died in a Bangladeshi cyclone. The IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, shattering the windows and scorching the wall of the room where Prime Minister John Major was meeting with his Cabinet ("I think we'd better start again, somewhere else," said the prime minister). In the Philippines, Mount Pinatubo erupted, ejecting 30 billion metric tons of magma and aerosols, draping a thick layer of sulfuric acid over the earth, cooling temperatures while torching the ozone layer.

    It was a brutal year for the ozone layer.

    Here in America, it was no better: the rise of Jack Kevorkian, Magic Johnson's HIV diagnosis, Donald Trump's dwindling empire. Rape, mass murder, and masturbation.* The country slopped along in a recession, and meanwhile, I wasn't feeling so good myself.

    To kick things off, I got dumped in January. I was twenty-six years old, making about $5,000 a year, pretax. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my roommate, Miles, both of us graduate students in the creative writing program for fiction, a.k.a. Storytelling School. We each had a futon and a stereo--and everything else (two couches, black-and-white TV, waffle iron) we'd foraged from piles in front of houses on Big Trash Day.

    That year, I toted around a book entitled The Great Depression of 1990, one bought on remainder for a dollar, and that predicted abso- lute global meltdown . . . in 1990. But I, for one, wasn't going to look like an idiot if it hit a year or two late. The advantage I had over most everyone else in the world was my lack of participation in the econ- omy, except to issue policy statements, from the couch, before our bliz- zardy TV screen of black-and-white pixels. The eleven o'clock news brought us Detroit anchorman Bill Bonds and all the bad acid and strange perversions of the year--the William Kennedy Smith trial, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Rodney King beating--all deliv- ered from beneath his superb toupee, woven it seemed with fine Incan silver.

    Nineteen-ninety-one was the year we were to graduate, and as the months progressed toward that spring rite of passage, a funny thing happened: We, the storytellers, could not get our stories published-- anywhere. We typed in fits of Kerouacian ecstacy, swaddled our stories in manila envelopes, sent them out to small journals across the coun- try. The rejections came back in our own self-addressed envelopes, like homing pigeons.

    So we stewed in our obscurity--and futility. We were Artists. We* worked as course assistants and teachers of Creative Writing 101, reading Wallace Stevens poems to the uvulas of the yawning under- grad horde, moving ourselves to inspiration while the class spoke among itself. We kept office hours in a holding pen with sixteen other teachers, and then went and drank cheap beer at Old Town Tavern, swapping lines from our rejection letters. As it began to dawn on us that the end of our cosseted academic ride was near, the tension ratch- eted so high that we...

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.

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A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese
Michael Paterniti
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