Benni is renowned in his native Italy as a shrewd and entertaining satirist. His inventive style must be daunting for translators, but Shugaar’s English rendering is dazzling. Margherita Dolce Vita is the 14-year-old narrator’s nickname, and the allusion to Felllini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) hints at the uncanny chaos and angst Margherita so ably and drolly chronicles. She is happiest frolicking with her dog in the meadow surrounding her family’s modest house, where her father repairs old bicycles, her mother watches her soap opera, one brother obsesses over soccer while the other plays mad scientist, and her grandfather ingests toxins in the hope of becoming immune to pollution. It’s a sweet life, all right, until a giant black cube is erected next-door, the forbidding high-tech mansion of a wealthy family up to no good. Soon Margherita’s once frugal and content parents are caught up in their neighbors’ passion for excess and sinister clandestine activities, while the once fecund meadow is poisoned with pesticides. What’s an observant, outspoken, and nature-loving girl to do? Benni’s seriocomic vision of the drastic consequences of unchecked consumerism, environmental decimation, and End Times mania is at once fantastic and believable, delightful and chilling.
by Donna Seaman