Amara Lakhous is definitely one of my favorite contemporary authors. Having read his two previous novels, A Clash of Civilizations Over An Elevator In The Piazza Vittorio and Divorce Islamic Style, I could wait to get my hands on his newest offering, Dispute Over A Very Italian Piglet. Like it’s predecessors, this new novel explores the multi-cultural aspect of Italian society only instead of Rome the locale has switched to the north, specifically the San Salvario neighborhood of Turin. The move north is not by chance, being that there is a lot of commentary about the plight of the immigrant community, which bares an uncanny resemblance to how southern Italians were looked upon when they began venturing to the northern cities. In fact, the novel’s epigraphs are two letters written by southern Italians to two particular newspapers - Gazetta del Popolo 1959 and La Stampa 1961 - which decries the treatment and discrimination felt by many southern Italians who decided to move north.
Enter the main protagonist - Enzo Lagana - a reporter for a local newspaper who was born of southern parents (from Calabria). He feels empathy for the immigrant community of Turin due to his past of being made fun of and discriminated himself due to his own “southern origins”. So when members of the Albanian and Romanian communities start turning up dead, he feels a little more than anger at the way his newspaper depicts these recent immigrant communities. It is around 2006 and Romania is about to enter the European Union. The mystery here is whether or not the Albanians and Romanians are after one another over centuries old clan feud or is it the handiwork of local organized crime syndicates who have a habit of “infecting” a neighborhood before “cleansing” them in order to rake in profits on new property developments?
Enzo, a reporter with questionable ethics, decides he’s going to get to the bottom of what’s behind these crimes and what follows is nothing short of hilarious. Add to this, he becomes pulled into another incident involving his upstairs neighbor - Joseph, a Nigerian with a pet piglet named Gino (who is a Juventus fan). Someone allowed Gino to run free through the neighborhood’s local mosque, intensely angering Turin’s Muslim community and he soon finds himself mediator. Add to this pressure from a local “nativist” group who calls itself Masters in Our Own House who intend to exploit Gino the piglet for their own aims, as well as pressure from a local animal rights group who demand the piglet be set free from Joseph’s possession - not to mention the fear of dragging Al Qaeda’s wrath into the mix as well as being harassed by a local police inspector (along with his partner from the Romanian police), you have a set up here that expertly threads these narratives together for a hilarious ride.
There are also interesting bits of Italian history (particularly how organized crime had worked its way so thoroughly into the system) and Italian pop-cultural history peppered throughout which brilliantly adds to the story that the average American reader may not get completely (I had to look some things up) but there are also numerous references to Watergate, most especially Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post and Deep Throat which will delight the American audience due to how it connects to the central plot. What you have here is a true mystery, written like the best of mystery novels along with a heavy dose of commedia all’Italia which will thrill fans of that genre. This novel focuses more on the protagonist (whose eyes we see everything) and this is one main difference between this novel and his previous two (where the reader gets the different perspectives of the various characters telling the story). All in all it’s very “cinematic” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this turned into one hilarious film one day.
For more information about the author, check out a recent interview in Full Stop.