Thursday, December 14, 2006

An Italian Kiss

THE GOODBYE KISS, by Massimo Carlotto; translated by Lawrence Venuti

So many mysteries as strong and black as good espresso are coming out of Italy these days that a bookwatcher might just detect a trend. In the last couple of months, there have been such dark delights as The Smell of the Night, by Andrea Camilleri, and Involuntary Witness, by Gianrico Carofiglio. Like Carofiglio, an anti-Mafia judge, Massimo Carlotto has a history as riveting as any novel. In 1976, the leftwing militant was charged with murder; he fled to Paris and then Mexico before being returned to Italy, where after seven years in prison a presidential pardon set him free in 1993, and he soon became one of Italy’s most popular writers.

The Goodbye Kiss, Carlotto’s first book to be published in America (by the increasingly impressive new Europa Editions), has a lead character – by no stretch of the imagination a hero – named Giorgio Pellegrini. Still wanted for political crimes in Italy, he is hiding out in Central America, his idealism burned away. The betrayal of his revolutionary colleagues by one of their leaders makes Giorgio decide to head home to Italy, to see if anything is left of his once lofty plans and hopes.

There isn’t much light in Carlotto’s piazza, and readers expecting soothing travelogues might opt for another writer. But those with a taste – even a need – for an occasional inky cup of bitter honesty should lap this up.