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The Crossroads

by Niccolo Ammaniti

The Italy of author Niccolo Ammaniti is a far cry from the hills of Chiantishire that many of us know and love. THE CROSSROADS, his third novel, takes place in a small northern town where we’re introduced to a bunch of no-hopers, reprobates, alcoholics and drug addicts who exist on a diet of ignorance, pornography and violence – a TV world in which the lines of fantasy and reality are distinctly blurred. Welcome to Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy (as well as the Prime Minister he is the proprietor of three analogue television channels, various digital television channels, as well as some of the larger-circulation national news magazines which, apparently, account for nearly half the Italian market).

Rino Zena, a skinhead, racist odd-job man is one of these reprobates. Zena is father to thirteen-year-old Cristiano whom he beats and adores in equal measure and who is kept under the not-so-very-watchful eye of social services. Along with his compagni Danilo Aprea, a middle-aged alcoholic who blames himself for the death of his three-year-old daughter, and Quattro Formaggi (nicknamed for his love of the pizza of the same name), a middle-aged man-child, they decide to ram-raid the local bank. What follows is a seemingly disparate set of plots that take us on a roller-coaster ride and finally collide to culminate in total disaster.

Like most modern thrillers (if that’s what this is) we’re treated to plenty of blood, guts, gore and sexual violence, so if you’re squeamish this is not for you. But what’s different about this one is that there’s no clever cop or psychologist or CSI to sort it out and wrap it all up for us. There’s a bigger picture in Ammaniti’s work, focussed on poor education and grinding rural poverty, and it’s a rather depressing view of contemporary Italy.

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