A vast, philosophically charged novel of education, faith, and crime by Italian writer Albinati (Coming Back: Diary of a Mission to Afghanistan, 2004).
At the core of Albinati’s bildungsroman, its narrator a minor writer named Edoardo Albinati (“I’d like it if my reputation as a writer were sufficiently great that I could hope to have a street named after me in my city, just a little, out-of-the-way street”), is a terrible crime: Three alumni of his Catholic all-boys school kidnap, rape, and murder two teenage girls, a real-life 1975 event known in Italy as the Circeo massacre. Albinati mentions the crime early, then builds up to it over hundreds of pages in which he meditates on the ordinary violence of daily life in Rome and the specialized violence that comes from attending parochial school, with its cliques, beatings, and priestly oppression. Albinati’s hero is a pimply, unattractive nerd named Arbus, who, Albinati learns much later, was an intent student of “the different ways of killing people” even though he was mild-tempered and inoffensive in a setting that was "marked by a very particular enthusiasm for violent abuse." Albinati, as both writer and character, ponders the nature of this violence, especially as it is visited upon women (“The positive fact—positive, that is, in the sense of effective, documented—that women suffer violence becomes the very reason they suffer it”); among the other topics are the abuse of authority by authoritarians in the priesthood and in politics as well as the tangled politics of Italy, with some of his classmates communists, others fascists, and Arbus ever the individualist, a “Nazi-Maoist," which is to say, one of the people "who chose the worst…of right-wing and left-wing extremism." Albinati’s musings on the philosophical meanings of rape, murder, education, and other matters are the substance of this book, which, if boiled down to actual deeds, would scarcely add up to a novella. A little goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it.
Talky and pensive; for readers who like their fiction laden with more reflections than deeds.