I'M NOT SCARED
Niccolo Ammaniti, , trans. from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt. . Canongate, $23 (208pp) ISBN 978-1-84195-297-0
This gripping American debut by Italian novelist Ammaniti captures well the vagaries of childhood: the shifting alliances, the casual betrayals and the mix of helplessness and earnest audacity with which children confront adult situations. Nine-year-old Michele Amitrano lives with his little sister, devoted mother and distant father in a rural Italian hamlet consisting of five dilapidated houses. In the sweltering summer of 1978, he and a group of his friends strike out on their bikes across the barren, scorched hills. While exploring an abandoned house, Michele discovers what he believes to be the dead body of a boy his own age. He cannot bring himself to tell his friends. When he tries to tell his father, the elder Amitrano brushes him off. Drawn back to the site, Michele discovers that the boy is not dead, but weak, disoriented and unable to account for his presence there. Michele brings the boy food and water and slowly learns more about him. The boy's story—which includes kidnapping and ransom—are too much for a nine-year-old to fathom and involve virtually every adult in the tiny community. Yet Michele decides that he must do something to help the boy. Part mystery, part morality play, the novel is written in simple, spare prose. The characters, particularly that of Michele, spring to life, and the story builds to a heart-stopping climax. Readers will find this accomplished work hard to put down and even harder to forget.
Reviewed on: 12/23/2002