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Shelf Awareness: "An Italian noir-comedy-satire, written by an Algerian, that effectively breaks rules and has a good time doing it."

Date: Oct 28 2008

If over-the-top Italian buffoonery doesn't offend, you're in for a treat. The catchy title of this short Italian novel is matched by a very clever idea. Author Amara Lakhous gives you 11 points of view as various immigrants--an Iranian cook, a Dutch film student, a Bangladeshi grocer, an Arab who sells fish--interact and misunderstand each other in a Roman piazza. It's been embraced by modern Italian literature as an authentic Italian work by a non-Italian, and the author, like the central character, is an Algerian who has made Italy his home.

The novel is comprised of 11 police testimonies interspersed with diary entries. We meet various regulars in the piazza--Benedetta, the prejudiced old concierge, Marini, the arrogant Milanese professor, Elisabetta Fabiani, the eccentric whose adored dog Valentino has gone missing--and slowly realize why they're all giving testimony. Amedeo, a character whom every one of them genuinely loves and a happily-married translator who has befriended them all, is mysteriously missing and has become the prime suspect in a murder that's happened in the apartment house elevator, the stabbing of a young tough known as the Gladiator whom everyone genuinely hates.

The title of the novel comes from the proposed name of the soon-to-be-shot black-and-white neorealist-style movie that the Dutch film student wants to make about these characters, starring the characters themselves. Much of the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, and its darkly comic spin on the immigrant mindset clearly comes from the author's own experience. It's a comedy, a mystery, a satire, a burlesque, a noir--in short, it's frothy and fun, it breaks all the rules and has a good time doing it.

The novel only really stumbles when it tries to be a murder mystery. Though this reader didn't guess who did it, the crime and the criminal are so little explored that it's patently only a plot device and hard to take seriously. The disappearance of Amedeo, and its satisfying resolution, would have been enough.

Still, that's a minor quibble. Though the characters at times come a hair too close to caricatures, and the murder mystery frame is a flimsy one, there's no denying that going from testimony to testimony is a hoot and you close the book smiling.--Nick DiMartino

Shelf Talker: An Italian noir-comedy-satire, written by an Algerian, that effectively breaks rules and has a good time doing it.

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