cover image I'll Steal You Away

I'll Steal You Away

Niccolo Ammaniti, , trans. from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt. . Canongate, $23 (405pp) ISBN 978-1-84195-824-8

Ammaniti, author of novel-turned-film I'm Not Scared (2003), offers another tale of smalltown southern Italy, this time juxtaposing the growing pains of 12-year-old Pietro Moroni, a "small for his age" kid frequently targeted by bullies, with the romantic prowling of Graziano Biglia, a washed-up flamenco guitarist who returns to his hometown after having his heart broken by a stripper. The novel, narrated in a quasi call-and-response ("His life is sex, drugs and... flamenco. But what's wrong with that? Sure, many people would hate a life like mine. Drifting. Rootless. But I like it") feels awkward at first, but once the reader settles in, Hunt's translation adds welcome depth to seemingly simple folk: Pietro, hungry for social acceptance, gets tricked into vandalizing his school and must suffer the consequences; Graziano, forever scheming an entrée to the big time, loves and leaves skittish schoolteacher Flora Palmieri. Flora, burdened with caring for her sick mother and ill-equipped to deal with the intense fallout from her relationship with Graziano, quickly falls apart once her seducer disappears. Chilling and intimate, Ammaniti's work brings life to a deceptively quiet town and its wealth of eclectic and unsettling residents. (Sept.)