Amara Lakhous is one contemporary author I can get excited about. I read his second (in English) novel, “Divorce Islamic Style” a few months ago and absolutely loved it. This novel, his first in English, was also a great read. A short novel, coming in at around 130 pages, it is packed with ideas and brilliant observations, mostly about contemporary Rome and the lives of immigrants who dwell in the Eternal City.
Lakhous is an Algerian but writes in Italian and seems to have his finger on the pulse of Rome as it exists today. It is a far cry from the “La Dolce Vita” of Fellini, however he does employ very Fellini-esque attributes to his narrative. Based on the cinematic tradition of commedia all’Italiana, the story revolves around a group of residents - mostly immigrants - living in an apartment building in the heart of the Piazza Vittorio. One of the residents, a man the other residents have nicknamed “The Gladiator” is found murdered in the building’s elevator. The police suspect the murder was committed by another resident named Amedeo, who most, if not all the other residents adore. The narrative consists of each of the residents telling their version of “the truth” to the policeman with alternating chapters of Amedeo, presumably speaking into a tape recorder (or perhaps writing in a journal) his perspective of the people and events taking place around him. Little by little, the story unfolds and the “truth” about each of the residents is slowly revealed. It is a exploration of truth and whether or not truth is something objective and outside of us or forever internal and subjective. There are many interesting twists as the story unfolds and the reader himself remains unsure of what the truth actually is.
It is also a character study of attitudes, prejudices, ignorance and misconceptions, with each of the residents not fully knowing one another, often misidentifying their ethnicities (and quite often Italian prejudices against their fellow Italians) and relying on stereotypes in order to tell their version of the truth. These prejudices and stereotypes taint the truth to the point that the reader can never actually be sure what truly happened or whether or not the residents are even reliable witnesses. The truth is - if it is to be believed - far more dark and disturbing than one would imagine, and you spend most of the time trying to figure out these threads to come to some sort of rational conclusion.
A very entertaining, witty, and enjoyable novel which I highly recommend and am looking forward to more of Lakhous’s fiction in the future.