It’s October 2006. The northern Italian town of Turin has been rocked by a series of murders involving Albanians and Romanians, and journalist Enzo Laganà is determined to get to the bottom of the crime wave—even if he must invent a few sources to do so. But first he’s been conscripted to mediate the issue of a pig running loose in a mosque.
Gino the pig belongs to Enzo’s Nigerian immigrant neighbor, Joseph. The Muslim community wants Gino killed, an animal rights group wants him saved, and Joseph is pleading his pig’s innocence. As Enzo navigates various calamities large and small, he scrambles to keep track of his lies even as he uncovers some uncomfortable truths about contemporary, multicultural Italy.
“This very funny novel examines a town’s heightened ignorance and hostility toward foreigners, and what it means to be a “true” Italian, even if the native in question is a small pig.” —The New York Times
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
I get out of bed with my eyes closed and move toward the window like a blind man without a cane. I part the curtains and slowly open the blinds. Voices and other sounds caress my ears. I feel a shiver on my skin. I wait a few seconds, then, suddenly, I open my eyes: there before me, in all its splendor, is the Vieux-Port.
I stand there, admiring the beauty of this October light, child of sun and sea. I look at the fishermen's stalls, I extend my gaze farther out, to the boats moving away from the port. I become aware of Taina's presence beside me, I feel her fingers on my back. Her hair, still a little wet, dazzles me. Now there is too much light. I sniff the freshness of her body. I kiss her gently on the neck, but Taina senses the trap and disentangles herself like a clever prey.
"Enzo, stop it! I have to go. The taxi's waiting downstairs."
"What's the rush?"
"You'll make me miss the plane to Helsinki."
"Just a kiss."
Taina grants me a passionate French kiss and escapes. Such a pity, the time we have is never generous. The hours pass quickly. We've been in Marseilles for three days but it feels as if we'd arrived only yesterday.
I met Taina, the jewel of my conquests, in peculiar circumstances, a year and a half ago, at the Porta Nuova station in Turin. That initial encounter was unforgettable: a gorgeous blonde who was crying desperately, because her suitcase had been stolen. At first sight, she appeared to be a foreign tourist, but in fact she was in the city for work. I stepped in without thinking twice. Evidently I hadn't lost my habit of sticking my nose in other people's business. What can I do? I like helping people, the way a doctor or a fireman does. It took some time to calm her down. If I could have embraced her that would have been a big help, but it couldn't be done, I'd never seen her before. So I contented myself with a few routine phrases. The truth is that this beautiful Finnish woman had really screwed up. She had in the suitcase not only clothes but documents and, most crucial, a really important contract for Nokia — she's the company's European representative. She risked being fired. I went with her first to the police station near Porta Nuova to make a report, then to the hotel near Piazza San Carlo where she usually stayed. Luckily the guy at the desk proved to be understanding and didn't make a fuss about the documents. Taina was a regular guest, and, besides, she was generous with tips, so all she had to do was tell him about the lost suitcase. I left her less desperate than before. Maybe she was ready to resign herself. As I said goodbye, I promised I'd get busy and recover the suitcase. And I consider a promise sacred.
Coming out of the hotel I had a wicked idea, of the type that I find extremely amusing. I called an old acquaintance, Franco, who's known as Tamburo, the Drum. Besides being crazy about drums of all kinds, which explains the origin of his nickname, he is also a baronet among Turin's thieves and fences. I told him that a suitcase belonging to the Security Services had been stolen at the station an hour earlier and that some informer, probably one of his colleagues, had dragged his name into it. And, to be precise and get to the point, I added that the suitcase belonged to a blonde who was working undercover. I didn't have to continue the story. Tamburo got the gist immediately; he has a good memory. A year earlier, he had had a nasty experience with the Services. He had been commissioned by "someone" to steal the laptop of a Russian diplomat visiting Piedmont. Top-secret documents were involved. The operation didn't have a good outcome. He was caught like an amateur. How was he supposed to know that the diplomat was in fact a KGB agent, a really sharp son of a bitch? Besides, when things go wrong it's always the weakest who pay the bill. Tamburo took all the blame, to protect his bosses. He did a few months in jail, spending a lot of money out of his own pocket for a famous lawyer. So the theft of Taina's suitcase might sound to him like a serious blunder. A blunder leads to revenge and revenge does harm and makes noise. This our Tamburo absolutely did not want. His business requires total silence. We understood each other without too much beating about the bush: it's better to find "the suitcase belonging to the Security Services" and give it back right away — otherwise there's trouble. Tamburo hadn't lost the old habit of swearing on the head of his son, and this made me angry. Children should be left in peace, they shouldn't be used as pawns.
For my part, I was sure of one thing: if it wasn't him personally who had stolen the suitcase, it must have been someone he knew. There are no professional secrets in this line of work. A simple theory, which, however, always holds true. In the end, though, he asked for a little time to investigate; I felt like I was talking to the Turin chief of police himself.
After a couple of hours he called, saying that he had found the suitcase, untouched. What a guy! He asked me the favor of acting as middleman to give it back. Why? He wished to remain "outside this business that smells like shit." Those were his actual words. That is, not a shitty business but a business that smells like shit. Tamburo wanted to keep both his ass and his nose clean. Can you blame him? To puff myself up a bit, I said, before agreeing, that I would do it, but just to keep him out of trouble. He thanked me effusively. I was satisfied; I had already reserved a favor for the future. You never know, life is full of emergencies. A Tamburo can always be useful.
A few minutes later we were in San Salvario, near my house, for the handover. Tamburo was very nervous, trembling like a dry leaf. He looked over his shoulder, fearful he'd been followed. I listened to his load of nonsense reluctantly: I'm finished with the criminal life, I'm another person now, I don't want trouble, I want to set a good example for my son, blah blah blah. The usual bullshit of fucking criminals who aren't ever sorry. I left him terrified. I'm sure he didn't sleep that night.
A little before midnight I myself, in a state of complete euphoria, was at the reception desk of the hotel with the suitcase belonging to the Security Services. To tell the truth, I felt rather like Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Giuseppe Garibaldi triumphantly entering a newly conquered city. Taina was really happy. She glanced quickly through the suitcase: nothing missing. Probably because she was tired, she didn't even ask how I had managed to find it. With a seductive look and that Nordic accent that makes us poor fellows see the sun at midnight and the moon at noon she said to me: "I don't know how to thank you."
"There's just one way."
"Accept my invitation to dinner tomorrow."
"I'm sorry, I leave tomorrow at noon, but I'll be back in Turin in two weeks. I'll call you."
OK like hell! I left with a handshake, not even a kiss on the cheek! Northerners, as everyone knows, are very formal. Not like us Italians, Mediterranean, uninhibited, with all our kisses, hugs, pats on the shoulder, and various other kinds of touching. So I had to be content with her card. I, however, never having had a goddam card, gave her my cell phone number. What could I do? It wasn't the moment to insist. In fact I felt like a real halfwit, the king of jerks. I should at least have tried. What the hell! I had a chance. Did I save her from being fired, yes or no? Did I find her documents, yes or no? Did I give her back her clothes, yes or no? Did I spare her a restless, sleepless night, yes or no? Did I deserve a reward, yes or no? But I gave in without a whimper. Disgraceful! What had the Latin lover come to? For a few days I sharply regretted it. But luckily Taina was as good as her word. Two weeks later she was back, and she remembered me. That same night our more than intimate relationship began. I didn't do much. It was she who led the game from the start. I merely invited her to my house for a risotto alla Laganà and a glass of red wine from the Piedmont, a Nebbiolo.
Now, riveted to the spot, I stare at the Vieux-Port, thinking of my situation as a single man. I admit it's a choice, not forced. Why complain? I'm like that. I'm not keen on long relationships. I can't bear routine–it takes courage to play the same part for days, weeks, months, even years. My sister Paola maintains that I need a therapist (a female one would be best), to cure my "woman-phobia." Maybe she's right, maybe not. While I'm waiting for psychological improvement I continue to believe that being part of a couple is not my cup of tea. This is what my sainted mother can't understand: "Enzù, my son, time waits for no man. You see, you'll end up alone! You've got to get married and have children." Mamma, what's the rush to have a stranger in the house, as the great Alberto Sordi once said.
I take an orange juice from the minifridge, a pack of MS cigarettes, a.k.a. morte sicura, certain death, and my cell phone, and go out to sit on the little balcony and enjoy the sun. The Vieux-Port is slowly emptying as the fishermen pack up their stalls. I light the first cigarette and take a deep drag. I glance at the phone to see what time it is. God damn! Thirty calls and no answer. What happened. I don't have time to find out the origin of the calls when here comes another.
"Enzo, it's Maritani. Finally! I've been looking for you since this morning."
"Sorry, I had the sound turned down."
"Where the hell are you? How can you not know? We've got a real mess here."
"Are you kidding? Where are you living? On Mars? In ten minutes we'll have the third briefing of the day. I've got nothing on the murder of those Albanians last night, apart from the sweet bit of news that some of them were found with their genitals in their mouths! You make me look like an idiot, a shit editor! You think I'm a dickhead?"
"I want you at the office immediately."
"I can't now."
"What do you mean you can't?"
"I've been following a lead since this morning. I need time, Angelo."
"What lead? We know that the Albanians, two men and two women, were killed in three different places in Turin. The method was the same? Is that it? Can you give me something?"
"I can't now. I'll explain everything later."
"Do you have a source, Enzo?"
"Yes. Let's say that ... "
Voilà! Les jeux sont faits! The eggs are broken.
"A Deep Throat. Is that it?" "Yes."
"I'll call you later, all right? Where are you now?"
"I'm in Mar ... in Marconi."
Basically it's not so hard to pretend to be in Corso Marconi in San Salvario while you're looking at the Vieux-Port of Marseilles! All you need is nerve and serious balls. That's it. Now, however, I have a hot potato on my hands. Rather, four. The number of murdered Albanians. Is it revenge? Maybe. Here I have to make something up. I told Maritani that I had a trail, a Deep Throat, to be exact. I can't go back. This business of the deep throat pisses me off. My editor is a real romantic, for want of a less elegant adjective. He's still thinking about the Nixon investigation in '74. Try to convince Maritani that Watergate was a setup. A story of settling scores, as usual. A human vendetta. It was Mark Felt, with that comic-book name, the No. 2 in the F.B.I., who revealed to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Nixon's maneuvers against his Democratic opponents. Felt, alias Deep Throat, came out into the open only last year. I ask myself: what great thing did the two reporters do? They were simply used as pawns to fuck poor Nixon! Let's summarize: Felt aims at the job of No. 1 in the F.B.I. after the death of the old, feared J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, the people in the White House choose someone else, he gets his revenge, by exposing his enemies. All clear?
There are no scoops without tips, without anonymous sources, it's the first real rule of journalism I learned. I'm allergic to colleagues who transform themselves into heroes, myths, or, even worse, martyrs. Should I be getting nervous? No, absolutely. It's not worth it. I have to think of a lead, but not right away. I still have some time. I'd like to take my afternoon walk in tranquility. The sun in Marseilles is stupendous, the sea makes me truly happy. I'll have to leave tomorrow, ahead of time — I can't stay till Tuesday. Alas! I'll have to leave beautiful Marseilles and go back to Turin. This Albanian trouble requires my physical presence at the crime scenes. I can't manage it from outside. I call my friend Jean-Pierre to tell him about the change of plan and try to reschedule our dinner for tonight.
I have lunch around two at a bistro near the hotel, where I sit on the terrace to enjoy the panorama of the Vieux-Port. I order a salad Niçoise and a glass of red wine. My dinner with Jean-Pierre is set for eight at his house, in the Panier district. So there's time for a good walk. After my meal, I feel like having an Arab mint tea in the North African neighborhood. There's a small casbah near the intersection of Rue de la Canebière and Rue de Rome. The neighborhood, called Noailles, is famous for its Arab market, which is very crowded on weekends. It resembles our market in Porta Palazzo. I go into a shop that sells Arab pastries, and where you can also get mint tea. The aromas are intense, and there's a Tunisian pastry I can never resist, called zlabia. It's fried and very sweet, made with honey. Luckily I don't suffer from diabetes or ulcers, so I can indulge.
I return to the Vieux-Port, and decide to go to the cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde. I like seeing Marseilles from high up. There's a very convenient way to get there, in a vehicle that's a cross between a train, a minibus, a mechanical worm, and a gigantic toy. It would drive all the children in the world mad. There are three seats in each row. Only tourists use it. In Marseilles I'm often taken for a North African. Let's just say that I have an Arab-looking face. Taina finds it very amusing to make fun of me by calling me "Mohamed" when we go to an Arab restaurant; that way, she explains, they'll treat us with the proper respect. Taina is a genius of marketing.
I've been coming to France for some twenty years; I'm very fond of Paris and, even more, of Marseilles. I think Turin is a perfect blend of Paris and Marseilles. Learning French was easy, since it's not that different from Italian. It should be said that since I'm an ardent Juventus fan my admiration for Michel Platini first and Zinédine Zidane second has reinforced my bond with France. And I have to admit that I've always been very drawn to the Maghrebi. I don't know why. I love their music and their food. Years ago I had a lovely but short romance with a girl of Moroccan origin, who lived in a Paris suburb.
On the funicular, I sit next to two red-haired brothers. From the green sweater of the younger one, with the symbol of a harp, I deduce that they're Irish. The journey is pleasant. There's an invisible and witty guide who rattles off tourist information. For example, Marseilles was founded by Greeks more than two thousand years ago; also, a scene in a famous Marcel Pagnol film was shot in one of the streets in the VieuxPort. Obviously there's no mention of the other Marseilles, the city of the northern neighborhoods like Busserine, Les Flamants, Castellane, and Bassens, where crime reigns.
The giant toy continues to ascend. Finally we reach the top. Jean-Pierre always jokes that the Marseillais are the poor cousins of the Italians and the Greeks in terms of archeological treasures. They have hardly any monuments. But the Vieux-Port is more beautiful from here. While I sit admiring the view, a phone call arrives from the paper. I heave a sigh, and off I go with the first lie of the day.
"So, Enzo, what news?"
"The information I've picked up is very sensitive, Angelo."
"Don't worry. I'll be discreet. The sources will stay anonymous."
"Look, it's a serious matter. It's an underworld feud between Albanians and Romanians."
"Albanians and Romanians ... Continue, Enzo, I'm taking notes."
"The Romanian criminals are making a clean sweep, they feel they're the stronger now, and they're ready to take command. They want to control the market in drugs and prostitution. In three months Romania will enter the European Union. They don't want to be associated with the Albanian clans anymore. They want to be the bosses."
"So they're settling scores in the Mafia way. The Romanians are like the Corleonesi — like Liggio, Provenzano, Riina, and Bagarella."
"You could say that," I confirm.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet"
Copyright © 2013 Edizioni E/O.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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What People are Saying About This
“French and British literature have long been enriched by the biculturalism of authors like Tahar Ben Jelloun, Amin Maalouf, Gaitam Malkani and Monica Ali. With talented new writers like Lakhous...Italy is closing the gap.”—The New York Times
“Do we have an Italian Camus on our hands? Just possibly . . . No recent Italian novel so elegantly and directly confronts the ‘new Italy.’”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“The author’s real subject [in Clash of…] is the heave and crush of modern, polyglot Rome, and he renders the jabs of everyday speech with such precision that the novel feels exclaimed rather than written.”—The New Yorker
“What’s memorable about Lakhous’ Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is what he shows us of an often inward-looking nation confronting the teeming vibrancy of multicultural life.”—NPR’s Fresh Air
“[Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is] a satirical, enigmatic take on the racial tensions that afflict present-day Europe.”—Brooklyn Rail