cover image Boys Alive

Boys Alive

Pier Paolo Pasolini, trans. from the Italian by Tim Parks. NYRB Classics, $16.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-68137-762-9

Pasolini’s debut novel, first published in 1955 and given a new translation by Parks, foreshadows his focus as a filmmaker on restless and sometimes dangerous young men struggling to survive the mean streets of postwar Rome. As Parks reveals in his illuminating introduction, Pasolini “confessed” that the novel has no plot. The lack of forward motion mirrors the fortunes of these lost boys. Near the end of WWII, with the country occupied by the Germans, teens Riccetto and Marcello are antagonizing the neighborhood, committing robberies, and experimenting with sex. Pasolini harnesses a kinetic energy in the boys’ encounters with others, such as when Riccetto comes across a “pretty” boy named Alduccio, with whom he exchanges colorful, double entendre–laced banter about how they might become gangsters or sex workers. There’s also a playful and unsettling scene involving the boys attempting to breed a pair of mismatched dogs. Though some of the profanity feels pro forma to a contemporary reader, Parks ably captures the lyricism (“All the fine landscape... seemed to be made up of so many magnificent fragments immersed in a deep blue sky”). Pasolini’s fans will find this eye-opening. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review mistakenly stated that the novel had not previously appeared in an English translation.