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Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio Paperback – Ringle, September 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lakhous's prize-winning second novel is a social satire and murder mystery concerning an immigrant-filled apartment complex in Rome. After a murder in the building elevator, each occupant of the Piazza Vittorio—among these, Parviz Mansoor Samadi, an Iranian chef who detests pizza; Benedetta Esposito, an aging concierge from Naples; Iqbal Amir Allah, a Bangladeshi shopkeeper—gets a chapter to relate the truth as he or she knows it (or wants it known), apparently to the police. The odd man out, and the main suspect, is Amedo, a man believed by his neighbors to be a native Italian. The tenants are by turns outraged, disillusioned, defensive and afraid, and their frequently wild testimony teases out intriguing psychological and social insight alongside a playful whodunit plot, exposing the power of fear, racial prejudice and cultural misconception to rob a neighborhood of its humanity. (Oct.)
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From The New Yorker

A cacophony of voices fills this novel, whose putative plot concerns the murder of a man known as the Gladiator in an apartment building in Rome. One by one, the neighbors offer their querulous, seemingly tangential testimony: an Iranian immigrant explains how he sewed his mouth shut when his petition for refugee status was denied; a lonely Peruvian maid confesses, �The TV is my new family�; a grief-stricken woman accuses Chinese restaurateurs of kidnapping her dog; a Milanese professor sees in the daily desecration of the building�s elevator (by litter, by urine) the decline of civilization. The author�s real subject is the heave and crush of modern, polyglot Rome, and he renders the jabs of everyday speech with such precision that the novel feels exclaimed rather than written.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933372613
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
(3.5 stars) Algerian author Amara Lakhous, now an Italian resident, pens a sly satire of an immigrant's life in Italy, exploring the murder of a young man in the elevator of an apartment building adjacent to Piazza Vittorio to show the hidden and not-so-hidden prejudices of Roman residents toward "outsiders." The victim, Lorenzo Manfredini, a young hood also known as the Gladiator, had repeatedly defaced and urinated in the building's elevator, earning the enmity of every resident. As residents and local merchants tell their stories to a police inspector, their hidden agendas and casual resentments against immigrants surface. Amedeo, a resident uniformly admired by everyone, thought to be an Italian volunteer who helps immigrants deal with Roman bureaucracy, is sought for the crime. No one has seen him since the murder.

Lakhous cleverly creates twelve unique voices as each person tells "the truth according to...", alternating these separate voices with "wails" from Amadeo as he comments on what the residents say. Amedeo, who speaks Italian like a native, provides a running commentary on Roman life, pointing up the contrasts between what people say to other Italians and what they say and do about their immigrant neighbors behind their backs.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alston Fitts on May 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Amiri Lakhous' CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS succeeds both as a whodunit, a humorous novel and a shrewd analysis of the "clash of civilizations" in Rome. Lakhous himself had to flee his native Algeria because he wasn't "Muslim enough;" but of course his being Muslim at all unnerves many simple souls in his adopted country of Italy. Another writer might have become shrill and bitter; but Lakhous sees the humorous side of the relentless misunderstandings which propell his narrative. His Italian characters themselves illustrate a variety of regional cultures -- I was much amused (as an Alabamian) to learn that the bustling citizens of Milan feel about the laid-back residents of Naples roughly what New Yorkers feel about residents of the Deep South! I look forward with great interest to more novels by this fascinating Algerian-Italian author, who has the rare gift of entertaining while he informs.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. DELORENZO on December 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
A deceptively intelligent un-novel that brings you a cast of interesting characters, with sections of charmingly unreliable narration from each. A sort of Roman "Tales of the City", it takes you through the improbable intersections of the characters' lives as you learn which character is the murderer. Brilliant and very Italian.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Kessinger on April 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it will be required reading for the entering Cornell class of 2018. The Cornell alumni are encouraged to participate, including reviewing and answering the study questions. I found the book an interesting and highly relevant study of immigration and emigration issues while trying to solve a kidnapping and murder. The book also highlights the need for greater communications to cross cultural and socio-economic boundaries. Having recently been to Italy, I am reminded of the tour guide instruction on the cultural and dialect differences of former Italian city states in Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples, These differences are exposed in the book as well as the cultural differences of other countries. Although Italian unification is just over 100 years old, the book highlights many issues still confounding their assimilation into one Italy and mirror our own experiment in democracy. The author's style of narrating the book from each character's point of view may be a challenge for some; I found myself needing to take notes, e.g., motive, alibi, etc., like the crime boards on television, to solve the mysteries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on January 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This wonderful satire joins the increasing list of shared immigrant experience, this one taking place in a diverse Roman neighborhood. Each character uses a few pages to explain themselves, their attitudes, their theories about the murder at the core of the structure, which cannot be properly called a plot but more of a social investigation. Even characters from Italy's other communities are allowed their particular voices, reminding the reader that before the mid-19th century, Italy was not a country but neighboring city states each with its definitive government and set of tradition. The author, himself an Algerian import, writes with a clear eye, warm heart, and more than a little humor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By cs211 on February 22, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Amara Lakhous’ “Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio” (translated by Ann Goldstein) is an enjoyable short novel, but I can’t praise it nearly as much as the many reviewers, both in Italy and the States, who have heaped accolades upon it. I suppose the major problem I have with it is one I cannot answer myself: how accurately does it reflect the experiences and feelings of citizens in present-day multicultural Rome and Italy? Is it at all exaggerated even beyond the norms of behavior that one would expect from the more emotionally expressive Italian people? I suspect it is, in which case Lakhous may be propagating stereotypes, but have no way of knowing for certain.

The other minor problem I have with the book is the ending, in which the first person recollections of the main character veer off into the abstract. Perhaps this is intentional and inspired by Italian cinema artists such as Fellini, but as with a Fellini movie it had me scratching my head and asking myself “what the heck just really happened”?

For readers in the United States, a nation of immigrants with many well-documented struggles over the centuries, it is enlightening to read of the immigration challenges of another nation. The north versus south differences within Italy described by Lakhous also have obvious parallels with the U.S. The immigrant story is a universal one, and Lakhous does a masterful job showing how differences in belief systems and cultural values, compounded by communication problems, produce conflict. The question of assimilation versus maintaining one’s cultural heritage in a new land is also explored and yet not answered by the author. As a result “Clash of Civilizations” would be a fine choice for a book group to debate.
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