A political parable that operates on various levels, from suspense to polemic.
Originally published in the author’s native Italy in 2008, this debut novel details the events of 30 years earlier, when the Red Brigades kidnapped the leader of the Christian Democratics, committed murder and wreaked terror upon the country. Against that political backdrop (which recedes as the novel progresses), three 11-year-old boys from the Sicilian city of Palermo find their lives transformed by the inspiration of the Red Brigades and the cultural critique that its seemingly senseless violence has visited on their homeland. “I was an ideological, focused, intense little boy, a non-ironic, anti-ironic, refractory little boy—a non-little boy,” writes the narrator, who has taken the name Nimbus, in solidarity with his comrades, led by the oddly charismatic, reductively ruthless Flight. The three of them (Radius completes the trio) escalate their fantasy subversion from coded language and assumed identities into crimes with real consequences—arson, kidnapping, murder. “We must abandon identity, relinquish the ego in favor of the group,” proclaims Flight, who is also prepared to relinquish morality and basic human values for the sake of a greater good, which is never really defined, either by the three boys or by the Red Brigades they aspire to emulate. Yet, says the narrator after watching a film, “it was the epitome of 1978, its mannerisms and its poses: wandering around aimlessly while claiming to have a strategy, indulging in lachrymose self-criticism, and continually regurgitating the same tired language.” Language in the novel is variously an epidemic, a crime, a tool, a means of exile, a boundless existence. Ultimately, the precociously innocent, language-obsessed narrator must make a choice between the inchoate ideology that has given him new life and identity and a girl he barely knows: “Whenever I looked at her I felt a religion form within me, a need for tenderness—the very need that the struggle daily excluded.”
Deftly plotted though occasionally heavy-handed, as the boys shoulder more symbolic weight than 11-year-olds should.