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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio - Amara Lakhous, Ann Goldstein Rating: 3.75* of fiveThe Book Description: A compelling mix of social satire and murder mystery.A small culturally mixed community living in an apartment building in the center of Rome is thrown into disarray when one of the neighbors is murdered. An investigation ensues and as each of the victim's neighbors is questioned, the reader is offered an all-access pass into the most colorful neighborhood in contemporary Rome. Each character takes his or her turn center-stage, giving evidence, recounting his or her story--the dramas of racial identity, the anxieties and misunderstandings born of a life spent on society's margins, the daily humiliations provoked by mainstream culture's fears and indifference, preconceptions and insensitivity. What emerges is a moving story that is common to us all, whether we live in Italy or Los Angeles.This novel is animated by a style that is as colorful as the neighborhood it describes and is characterized by seemingly effortless equipoise that borrows from the cinematic tradition of the Commedia all'Italiana as exemplified by directors such as Federico Fellini.At the heart of this bittersweet comedy told with affection and sensitivity is a social reality that we often tend to ignore and an anthropological analysis, refreshing in its generosity, that cannot fail to fascinate. My Review: Reading that book description isn't necessarily helpful. Social satire plus murder mystery, to most book-readin' Murrikins, is gonna call forth the specter of Murder by Death. You are not in for a satire like that. You are in for a very sophisticated and layered short novel in which a murder is committed, but frankly no one really cares who did it because it needed doing, and the perp the police have identified is a community pillar. No one believes Amedeo committed this murder, which no one calls a crime.Amedeo steps out of the stories of ten people who all live in a small apartment building on Rome's tatty side, on the Piazza Vittorio. All ten people are displaced, not Roman, and all are made to feel more alien than guest by Rome and its Romans. Amedeo comes to the rescue of each person here, in ways practical and spiritual. He's a fixer, a born organizer, he spends his time on this earth open to and listening for the truths under the stories his neighbors tell, the truths under the facts of Rome and Italian society, the truths that not very many people will bother to learn or, quite possibly, ever realize are there.So how can the police suspect this wonderful, soothing, special man of MURDER?! Because he, like everyone else, fought with the shit who got murdered? No...because he has disappeared. Not for the first time in his life. He has vanished, and in police work, that's as good as a confession. The novel is told in the interviews the police take with all the residents of Amedeo's building.Interspersed with these interviews are wails, the first-person accounts of Amedeo himself. They're called wails because Amedeo, né Ahmed Salmi in Algiers, spends a lot of time locked in his wife's bathroom with a tape recorder, setting down his impressions of the people around him, and vocalizing in that uniquely Arab way...the ululating wail, used for joy, for mourning, for any access of emotion that words can't encompass. It's a wonderful way to let us into the experience of being alive in the skin of a force of nature. We're inside Amedeo, Ahmed, we're privileged to be the unseen auditors of the story of his world. His private world. We have no sense whatever of his work, his living...he remains in a tight little box, as do all the characters, one that focuses on someone we don't meet or hear from or, frankly, care about. The victim is not the point. The murderer didn't commit a crime so much as perform clean-up on aisle two. The more we hear about him, the less we care that he's dead. It works well as a narrative technique to emphasize the almost miraculous nature of listening, and its almost total lack in the modern world.So why 3.75 stars, when all of the above sounds like such praise? Because the Italian reviews mention an exuberance of language, a gonzo balls-out feeling that the text gives. In Italian. The translation is like the book description above, not uninteresting but nobody's idea of gonzo or balls-out writing. It's a translation. It feels like a translation. It's never going to convey the sense that the original can, of different regional voices, of different classes and different kind of Italian, because American English isn't that kind of language and American culture doesn't, at least at the level of culture where one finds readers of translated novels, like “dialect writing” because it's not Nice.We lose. I want to read this book in Italian now. It's bound to be more fun. The translation is a good book. The original, I will bet, is a fantastic one.*sigh