Friday, November 21, 2008

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

Okay, this is either the third or fourth time I've tried to write about this novel by Algerian-born Italian resident Amara Lakhous. The book, put out in English translation by Europa Editions, first came to my attention in one of the threads over at Adrian McKinty's blog The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in a comment from Marco, who I am also indebted to for showing all of us how to make a link.

Marco started the ball rolling by saying:

We have mentioned big/plural/diverse cities,immigration,progressiveness vs insularity -one of my favorite novels of recent years,Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator on Piazza Vittorio deals with all these things,and has just been translated into English.

As an American, and maybe even more particularly as a Californian, my view of the vastness of Rome has to do with both its physical scale and its reach back into various layers of historic time. So I was not really prepared to encounter a European story of immigrants and exiles, which feels much more familiar here than the story of Romulus and Remus. Also, I think we tend to see Italy as far more 'unified' than it really is. The people in this book who figure as 'foreign' may be no further away than Naples. I want to say that Southern Californians would not prove so exotic to us in Santa Cruz, but in fact, much of the life of the Central Valley would seem very strange indeed.

This story revolves around a murder and a suspect. It spoils nothing to say that the suspect is one Amadeo, and that all the cast of characters have their own different take on him, often completely at odds with the others. A quote fairly far into the book, but again giving nothing away says: "Amadeo maintained that Italian-style comedy represents the highest level of Italian creativity because it emphasizes paradoxes, combines tragedy and comedy, humor and serious criticism." This is in fact the style of this book, and if that description sounds intriguing to you than you should enjoy this.

A personal note: Not too long after reading this novel I found myself shouting up the stairs at my fellow tenant, through the barrier/mediation of the property manager, a man covered in tattoos but also carrying a little lapdog. Our dilemmas and differences were as trivial as those of the characters in this book, and yet our lack of communication as profound. A little dog figures prominently in Clash of Civilizations as well. Perhaps there is always a little dog somewhere, emblematic of we know not what.

Don't know if anyone will even see this, but if so, let's state that spoilers are okay in the comments, so be forewarned.

I'm updating this to add a link from Peter Rosovsky's highly informative international crime blog, Detectives Without Borders, where he is also talking about this book, doubtless in a much more intelligent way.