Erri De Luca is known to be the most widely read author in Italy today. He’s an author I enjoy reading very much. His novels often explore life in post-war Italy, usually through the eyes of a child growing up amidst the ruins and confusion and the aftermath of war.
“Me, You” changes things up a bit. While still essentially a ‘coming of age’ tale, this time the setting switches from a post-war Naples to an idyllic island off the coast of Naples where the unnamed narrator spends the summer with his uncle.
There he meets Nicola, a local fisherman who is a former Italian soldier who had been sent to the front in Yugoslavia and was taken in and cared for by a local Serbian family. The young boy narrator, who was too young to remember anything about the war, is curious about what had happened and why so many people were reluctant to talk about it. Instead he teaches the boy about fishing, preferring not to talk to much about the war.
But the boy knows there’s more to the story and he could tell from the reactions of the older boys he hangs out with as they observe the American soldiers all over the island, pretty much taking over the place with their wild antics. There is a sense of humiliation, shame, guilt as Nicola, little by little, opens up about his war experiences. Then the boy meets Caia, a pretty young girl who he soon learns is Romanian, on the island for summer vacation just like he is. He falls head over heels in love with her but soon realizes that perhaps her attention is more towards the other boys than himself.
Little by little their relationship grows and he learns that she is Jewish and that her family had been killed during a Nazi atrocity. The more the boy learns about the war from Nicola, and Italy’s complicity with the Nazis, he becomes outraged and the quest to understand his country history begins.
As their relationship grows, the more he feels himself growing toward manhood, shedding his boyhood skin and navigating the normal adolescent confusion most sixteen year old boys have about love and sex. When an incident occurs one night where a table full of German tourists begin to mock and make fun of Caia for being Jewish, the boy’s outrage reaches fever pitch, leading towards a highly dramatic conclusion that the reader will not see coming.
“Me, You” is a wonderfully written coming of age tale so the focus is more on this aspect of the story as he tries to understand this young woman he has fallen so in love with. However the specter of the war is ever present, tainting everything, a war he knows nothing about and cannot understand. It is a portrait of trying to make sense of the world, make sense of life in the aftermath of horror.