A boy in rural southern Italy learns about crime firsthand when he discovers that his own father is part of a kidnapping gang. Rich in setting and detail, Ammaniti’s third, his first to be published here, rests contentedly on its YA bedrock.
Michele Amitrano is nine when one hot summer day in 1978 he falls—literally—onto a boy his own age being held prisoner, chained in the bottom of a deep pit out in the country. Michele is with a group of four or five kids from his village—including his five-year-old sister Maria—when he plummets out of a tree right onto the hidden pit, which is covered by a mattress and sheet of corrugated Fiberglas, but he decides at once not to tell any of them (“He was mine. He was my secret discovery”). How, though, could Michele have known that changes at home—his truck-driver father having recently come back to stay instead of making more long hauls, for example—were connected with the bound and bloodied boy in the pit (Filippo Carducci by name, as Michele will learn from the TV news)? The arrival—as a houseguest, the children are told—of an old man named Sergio Materia, and then the gatherings of still other men, who argue angrily among themselves around the dining table into the wee hours—all are ominous signs. After Michele is discovered out at the pit trying to comfort Filippo, not only is he beaten up by gang-helper Felice (“Felice Natale was Skull’s big brother. If Skull was bad, Felice was a thousand times worse”), he’s made to swear never to go back to the pit again, since if he does, his father says, Filippo will certainly be shot. But Michele promised Filippo he’d return. Which will prove stronger: oath to father or promise to the boy? Either way, something terrible is going to happen.
Readable and slight.