Genre: thriller novel, adventure novel
Setting and time: Southern Italy, 1978
Themes: childhood, friendship, social and economical divide, kidnapping
About the author: Niccolò Ammaniti was born in Rome in 1966. In 1999 he wrote the novel Ti Prendo e Ti Porto Via while he was on holiday in Scotland. Notoriety came nonetheless with the novel Io Non Ho Paura, which was then made into a film directed by Gabriele Salvatores. He was the youngest author to be awarded the prestigious Viareggio Prize. Come Dio Comanda (2006), his third work, was awarded the Premio Strega, the most important literary prize in Italy.
Plot: Nine-year-old Michele lives in a rural village in the south of Italy. It is a very hot summer and Michele and his friends decide to explore the countryside on their bikes. While playing in an abandoned house, Michele discovers a boy of his own age hidden in a hole in the ground. He soon discovers that everybody in the village is involved in the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy man from the north of Italy.
Some thoughts: Although I had already seen the movie, I decided to read this book, mostly because it is a quick read (and I have been reminding myself to read more Italian authors for ages). Even though I already knew how the story ends, I really enjoyed the book. I loved the sense of an Italian childhood in the book: the explorations, the countryside and the scorching sun were all elements of my own childhood. It is remarkable that Michele and his friends all speak like real children and not with the fake adult language that other writers put in their mouths (no subjunctive in their dialogues, which would make some people cringe!). Because the narrator is a ten-year-old boy, there are no detailed insights on the economical and social divide between the north and the south of Italy or on the kidnapping of people in the 1970s. I came to see this as a way of not overcharging with grief the story of Michele and Filippo. For Michele ‘the North’ is simply a mirage, as unreal as death or paradise, and as far as Africa.
Ammaniti is without a doubt one of the most talented living writers in Italy!