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Time Literary Supplement: "Carlotto gives a wry, offhand account of his own experiences of officially condoned brutality, of fear and uncertainty, but the tone throughout is surprisingly free of rancour or recrimination."

Date: Dec 17 2007

Italy’s war on terror in the 1970s led to several miscarriages of justice, but the outrage that was the “Carlotto case” was especially reviled. Massimo Carlotto was an activist in Lotta Continua, and extra-parliamentary grouping which, unlike others, eschewed violence. He had the misfortune in 1976 to report a murder he had witnessed, only to find himself charged with the crime. Over the next seventeen years, he was subjected to eleven different trials as his case traveled up and down the hierarchy of Italy’s courts, with alternating verdicts of guilt and innocence and even periods of release on bail or due to ill health.

In one such interval of liberty he fled from Italy into exile first in France and then in Mexico. In Mexico City, he put his trust in a lawyer who promised to give him a new identity, but instead betrayed him to the police. He was beaten up in prison before being returned to Italy to resume his judicial Calvary, which ended only in 1993 with a presidential pardon.

Carlotto has since made himself a reputation as a writer of seedy, violent detective stories, featuring a private investigator called the “Alligator.” The adjective “hard-boiled” is inadequate for these novels, though they are considered to be the most notable example of Mediterranean noir. Though it has not been translated until now, The Fugitive is his first work, an autobiographical piece which recounts his years as an “accidental fugitive.” Life on the run is “a state of mind, like the blues,” he was told by a German cell-mate in Mexico, who was beaten to death by the guards the following night.

Carlotto gives a wry, offhand account of his own experiences of officially condoned brutality, of fear and uncertainty, but the tone throughout is surprisingly free of rancour or recrimination. The book reads at times like an instruction manual as it offers practical advice on how to construct, or reconstruct, a life. An accidental fugitive is difference in kind from the “mobsters, businessmen, bankers and many others” who are on the run but have provided themselves with the necessary wherewithal and who endure only inconveniences. Fugitives of the Carlotto type are mere dilettantes who have to learn on the job, mastering the art of disguise and learning how to scrutinize apparently friendly phone calls.

It is, of necessity, a gruesome, painful work, enlightened by pen portraits of comrades encountered, recollections of transient relationships and of friendships cemented. And throughout the readers is aware of the ultimate irony that when Carlotto returned from Mexico, he found that no one in Italy had actually been looking for him. The arrest warrant had lain unregarded in a police drawer all the years he had been shifting furtively from den to den.

By Joseph Farrell

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