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dispute over a very italian piglet

11 january 2017

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet is more prolix than Amara Lakhous' earlier two novels (Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio and Divorce Islamic Style, not exactly reticent books themselves). It has fewer narrators – really only one voice, down from two in Divorce and twelve in Clash. It has flashes of the wit and brilliance of its predecessors, but also a certain amount of picking themes and filling them in mechanically. It's still well worth reading.

Our narrator is Enzo Laganà, a newspaperman in Turin. Enzo is the son of Calabrese internal migrants – like so many of Lakhous' characters, not really at home anywhere, a southerner in the north of Italy and a northerner in the south. As a journalist, Enzo has just one problem: he makes stuff up. Faced with pressure to record a scoop when he really wants to hang out in Marseilles with his Finnish girlfriend, Enzo concocts a mob war between Albanian and Romanian gangsters – which then, in best postmodern fashion, comes true. (Or at least he tells us it comes true, and he's established his narratorial unreliability.)

The very Italian piglet of the title belongs to a Nigerian immigrant named Joseph who lives in Enzo's Turin apartment building. The piglet, Gino, has been videoed traipsing around the local mosque, much to the scandal of the Muslim community. (Gino is identified in the video by his Juventus football scarf.) The dispute over Gino pits many competing and not-a-little fanatical groups over the poor swine, and Enzo must serve as mediator, all the while trying to match his yarns about a mob war to rapidly-developing events.

It all sounds very entertaining, and it is. Like Lakhous' earlier novels, it ends somewhat in mid-air, but while Enzo is juggling things he gets a chance to comment on animal rights, assimilation and lack thereof, sex trafficking, the refugee crisis, and many another topical issue.

Lakhous, Amara. Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet. [Contesa per un maialino italianissimo a San Salvario, 2013.] Translated by Ann Goldstein. New York: Europa, 2014.