Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fiction: Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles by Fabio Bartolomei

Publisher: Europa Editions
Translator: Anthony Shugaar
Date: 2011 (trans. October 30, 2012)
Format: paperback
Source: WLT giveaway shelf
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 322
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Diego is a forty-something car salesman with a talent for telling half-truths. Fausto sells watches over the phone. Claudio manages (barely) his family-owned neighborhood supermarket. The characteristic common to each of these three men is their abject mediocrity. Yet, mediocrity being the mother of outrageous invention, they embark on a project that would be too ambitious in scope for any single one of them, let alone all three together. They decide to flee the city and to open a rustic holiday farmhouse in the Italian countryside outside Naples. Things would have been challenging enough for these three unlikely entrepreneurs, but when a local mobster arrives and demands they pay him protection money things go from bad to worse. Now their ordinary (if wrongheaded) attempt to run a small business in an area that organized crime syndicates consider their own becomes a quixotic act of defiance.

My review: The best way to describe Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles is as a men's mid-life crises novel on drugs. The characters don't start out very likeable. They're three down-on-their-luck, self-centered, often prejudiced guys with poor social and love lives and very few redeeming qualities. When these city-slickers decide to start anew and renovate a large country home into an agritourist bed and breakfast, what could possibly go wrong?

Of course, hilarity ensues. At times I was laughing out loud. This is one of the funniest books I've read in a while, just from the characters' blunders and the almost ridiculous situation that progresses between them and members of the local mob. Somehow the author actually makes this scenario seem realistic, though for most of the book the reader lives under the knowledge that the situation can't possibly last in the men's favor and will only end badly. Still, it's fascinating to watch how the characters change and develop under the influence of their mutual country enterprise. They're not always capable of saving themselves from their own mistakes, however, and so the cast of characters grows as others join the initial trio in maintaining their schemes. In addition, there's a good deal of social messages included in the story, making this not only a very enjoyable read, but also one that sticks with readers after they have closed the covers.

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