For the last few weeks or so I’ve been in the mood for a little fiction. A week ago today I happened to drop by my local public library and found a rather promising work of fiction sitting on the “new books” shelf. Much like I usually do in situations like this, I threw caution to the wind and took it with me. After finishing it the other day I’m glad I did. Lately, after reading a number of books dealing with the lives of immigrants, in addition to books analyzing the conflicts between Islam and the non-Islamic world, I was receptive to reading a fictional depiction of those rather serious kinds of subjects. Fortunately for me, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous is a very enjoyable novel.
Set in Rome, the novel is a collection of first person accounts from the polyglot residents of a modest apartment building. After a fellow resident, (a racist, hard-drinking bully with a penchant for public urination, known perhaps not so affectionately as “the Gladiator”) is found murdered in the apartment’s elevator, in an effort to clear themselves of any suspicion, tell their respective tales of who they are and what brought them to the Eternal City. It is an entertaining cast of pleasantly imperfect characters from across the globe, including an Iranian chef who passionately detests Italian food, an overweight Peruvian maid, a Bangladeshi shopkeeper and a wannabe Dutch film maker. Adding to this volatile mix are several native-born Italians, each with his or her own particular regionally-inspired prejudices.
While I mostly read nonfiction, I’ve been incredibly lucky over the last few years to encounter a number of quality works of fiction much like this one. Not only is this book well-written, but Ann Goldstein’s translation is superb. The end result is a quick, lively, entertaining and award-winning novel that I highly recommend.