Book: Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

The book: Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, by Amara Lakhous

The edition: Italian version (written by the author), as published by Edizioni e/o, 191 pages

The story: in an apartment building in the center of Rome inhabited by a community of extremely mixed origins, a man is killed and another man disappears. The book reports the testimony of the different inhabitants, each of them talking about their view of life and their relationship with the two men and with Roman society at large.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I wasn’t happy with the first book I read by this author, but my husband decided to give him a second opportunity and after reading this I am glad he did. This is a crime novel written as a commedia all’italiana movie, very well executed in both the plot and characters. And between the lines (but not hidden at all) it adds social satire, describing a multicultural Italy (a multicultural Rome, even, because Italians from other corners of the country are exponents of a culture just as different from the dominant one as the Bengali, Irani etc. are) that most Italians are not really aware of.

What I liked: an eye-opener about a part of Italian society that is often hidden; an enjoyable crime story; nice characterization.

What I didn’t like: language (see below).

Language & writing: while the author has received praise for his use of Italian and dialects, to me it seemed overdone. I appreciated that he tried to convey the differences in Italian spoken by people from Milan and from Naples, by immigrants from Bangladesh or the Netherlands. But just throwing in a dialect word here and there doesn’t quite cut it, IMHO.

In the author’s own words: I loved the little language misunderstandings, like this one between Parviz and Benedetta (not to mention, most characters assume wrong nationalities for one another, and so does Benedetta in believing Parviz is Albanian). Parviz:

“Guaglio'” is Benedetta’s favorite word. As you know, guaglio’ means “fuck” in Neapolitan. At least, that’s what a lot of Neapolitans I’ve worked with have told me. Every time she sees me head for the elevator she starts shouting, “Guaglio’! Guaglio’! Guaglio’!” In Iran, it’s customary to show respect for old people and avoid bad words. That’s why, instead of answering the insult with another insult, I confine myself to a brief response: “Merci! ” I leave and go away without looking at her. By the way, you know that merci is a French word that means “thank you”?

Benedetta:

I say the Albanian is the real murderer. That good-for-nothing is rude when I call him guaglio’! I don’t know his name, and in Naples that’s what we say, but he answers with a nasty word in his language. I don’t remember exactly the word he always says, maybe mersa or mersis! Anyway, the point is, this word means “shit” in Albanian and is used as an insult.

(English translation by Ann Goldstein, as published by Europaeditions. Via. For those who don’t know, “Guaglio’” simply means “boy”.)

Links to better understand this book:

Random question: why are there no Romans in this book? (my husband pointed out that I was wrong, there is at least one Roman character, and he’s so deeply Roman that I don’t know how I could miss that…) Another question: what’s the longest title for a book you have ever read?

Read this if: if you like cozy mysteries and Italian comedy movies, or if you are interested in the dynamics of multi-cultural societies created by third-world immigration.

Counts as: Travel With Books – Rome, Italy in Books Challenge book #4

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