Sunday, March 29, 2009
Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator (and a murder)
Amara Lakhous's novel, Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is a portrait of a group of immigrants and Italians in a piazza in Rome, but in a series of eleven brief monologues, Lakhous accomplishes much more. The monologues are all concerned with the disappearance of Amadeo, a translator suspected of the crime by the police, and the monologues are each accompanied by an existential "wail" by Amadeo himself. In structure, Clash of Civilizations resembles Andrea Maria Schenkel's The Murder Farm (reviewed here last year): the monologues have the character of testimony, about the murder of a bully called The Gladiator in the titular elevator (which is also the source of disputes among the various residents of the house, arguments that will be very familiar to anyone who has lived in a co-op style apartment building). But their testimony also has a gossipy character that reveals a lot about the speaker as well as the community as a whole: and each speaker is characterized effecively through a few characteristics given in his/her own testimony as well as through the eyes of the other characters. And Amadeo's wails reveal not only his own character and his relationsn with the rest of the community but also the basic themes of the book: immigration, memory, language, and a person's sense of place or home. The real mystery of the book is not who the murderer is (though the solving of that mystery is withheld until the final testimony, that of a police inspector): the real resolution is the gradual discovery of who Amadeo is, and the discovery of his own tragedy. Curiously, both the Clash of Civilizations and another (very succesful) book published by Europa Editions (Elegance of the Hedgehog) end with a similar incident that arrives out of the blue but nevertheless provides a resolution. It's impossible to describe that incident (or to say much about Amadeo's identity) without giving away too much, though. What I can say is that Lakhous's book is a brief, quiet, often funny, and ultimately poetic commentary on our globalized world, brought into focus through his concentration on the interaction of a small group in a very particular place.