From Italy’s prize-winning Baricco (City, 2002; Ocean Sea, 1999, etc.), a thinny-thin little tale that stretches credibility but takes up big imponderables.
After a war that’s unnamed but sounds like WWII, three men come to a remote farmhouse somewhere in Italy to slay another man: Manuel Roca, an erstwhile medical doctor from the losing side in the war, whose hospital, according to those now coming to kill him, was a Dr. Mengele–like place of torture and despair such that patients asked only for death (which one of the three men now present indeed gave to his own agonized brother when he found him in that hospital). The atrocities of Manuel Roca are hearsay to the reader, though the atrocities visited upon him are not, as he is first tortured and then killed, as his preteen son is machine-gunned into bits—and as his young daughter listens to all from a root cellar under the floor. The boy-monster, Tito, who does the machine-gunning, is also the one who opens the cellar and sees the girl lying down below—and spares her, if only because the other two killers don’t hear him shout that she’s there. So much for the book’s first half. In the second, an aging woman—the girl of the cellar—walks in a city, comes upon a man selling lottery tickets from inside a booth, begs him to close up shop and come with her to a café—where she reveals that she’s the girl he spared and that she knows he’s the killer Tito who, albeit by accident, let her live. The two talk, weep, reconstruct the events between then and now, events that include the apparent fact of the woman’s having tracked down the other two of the three killers and killed them in revenge. And so what does she have in mind, now, for the lost, aged, and haunted-by-the-past Tito?
Baricco sails uneasily between the cheap and deep, albeit sometimes grippingly.