Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Amara Lakhous - Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

"I Arabise the Italian and Italianise the Arabic." Amara Lakhous.

Amara Lakhous was born in Algiers, in 1970. He writes in Italian now, but he wrote his first novel(s) in Arabic. His first novel was published in Italy as a bilingual edition (Le Cimici e Il Pirata - the Bug and the Pirate). He is Kabyle and polyglot (Kabyle, Arabic, French, Italian) and currently based in Rome.

He studied Philosophy in Algiers and emigrated in Italy, Rome, in 1995.  Of his leaving Algeria he said "I was tired of waiting for my murderers".  Another Black Decade, or red Decade, exilé.  

In Italy, he earned a second degree in Cultural Anthropology, writing about Muslim-Arab immigrants in Italy and this is may have given birth to this second novel.

Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio was published in 2006 in Italy and was published in translation in English in 2008 as Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio (translation by Ann Goldstein).  Clahs of civilizations is a revised version of an earlier book that had been released in 2003 in Algeria and Lebanon, and was then titled As you breastfeed the wolf, you feel it biting you (Come farti allattare dalla lupa senza che ti morda).


Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio tells of how the other is viewed, and how the other views himself or herself.  

The characters are tenants in a building on Piazza Vittorio.  Each in turn recount how he or she has met the neighbours and the residents living around the Piazza.  Each character's chapter is titled "The truth according to... ", a polyphonic narration that engages the reader with the truth of a story.

" 'Are we doomed to be alone at the origins of truth?' 
I said to myself that the word 'truth' must always be accompanied by a question mark or an exclamation point or a parenthesis, or quotation marks, never a period."

All narrations are linked to one event, and each narrator comments on it: a murder has been committed in their elevator, and the person they thought to be their kindest neighbour Amadeo is accused of it. 

In between these characters' recollections of the days before the rapist Lorenzo Manfredini was murdered, there are 'Wails'.  These wails are extracts from someone's diary.  Slowly the reader realises to whom this diary belongs and what these revelations mean in relation to the murder.  

These wails are those of an Algerian immigrant, haunted by the bloodshed he witnessed in Algeria not so long ago.

"Is telling stories useful? We have to tell stories to survive. Damn memory! Memory is the rock of Sisyphus."

While discussing, in many voices, subjects as deeply affecting and traumatising as poverty, prejudice, racism, rape, murder, immigration, and integration, Lakhous remains tender towards his characters and empathetic towards his fellow human being. He remains humourous, trilingually so.  

His latest novel, published in English in March 2012 (in the UK) is called 'Divorce Islamic Style', also translated by Ann Goldstein.

Want an audio-bite? You can listen to this fun NPR podcast about Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator.

For a link to Lakhous' other books HERE.

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