A harrowing portrait of survivor’s guilt in an Italian fire brigade.
As the story opens, Matteo Arteli, a firefighter in the Italian region of Campania, is burying his entire brigade, casualties of an intense fire on Mt. Maggiore. But Matteo is not the only survivor. Nico–a mysterious American volunteer who had, in the six months since he’d arrived in Italy, become Matteo’s unlikely companion–is still alive in a Naples prison cell. Matteo’s first reaction to Nico was similar to that of the rest of his brigade–he thought him to be lazy, self-indulgent and guarded, choosing to spend his time writing in a diary rather than training or getting to know his colleagues. Matteo’s perspective changes, however, when he and Nico learn that their fathers both died from lung cancer. Based on this shared painful experience, and their work side-by-side, the two men bond, particularly when they are forced to walk through a wall of fire on the job. But as Matteo grows closer to his new friend, his brigade grows more suspicious, calling into question Nico’s diary, his lengthy motorcycle trips around the countryside, his motivations for volunteering and his curiously strong command of the Italian language. To combat the fire on the mountain, Nico lights a back burn, saving his and Matteo’s life, but contributing to the deaths of the other firefighters. What was his motivation? As Nico waits in jail, accused of arson, Matteo struggles to figure out what he believes, while also confronting his survivor’s guilt. Throughout the narrative, Parras displays a solid, if a bit overblown, writing style, and the dynamic relationships between the men are genuinely emotional.
A tense, riveting rendering of the struggle between men and the nature they strive to protect.