Who is Amedeo? Who killed the Gladiator? Who is telling the truth?

Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is a delightful mix of social commentary, mystery and satire.

A young thug by the name of Lorenzo Mandredini, a.k.a. the Gladiator, has been murdered in the elevator of a residential building in Rome. To solve the crime, the police interviews the building’s motley crew of inhabitants which include political refugees, non-European immigrants, Italians from various parts of the country, and the old and young.

Each statement is followed by a series of journal-like audio recordings by Amedeo which often proffers a different perspective on what his fellow tenants said. There are conflicting testimonies, sometimes hilarious and other times, baffling.

The only thing that is consistent is that everyone likes Amedeo whom they have always thought to be an Italian.

Stereotypes exist when your mind does not allow you to understand what it does not believe in or does not want to know. Our reality is influenced by how we perceive the world.

In Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, only a handful of the characters share a lucid perspective like Amedeo’s, unhampered by the ignorance that cloak the eyes, ears and minds of their other neighbours. Misunderstandings are thus common amongst the residents of the apartment building, giving rise to negative sentiments such as anger, frustration, bewilderment and loneliness.

The characters in the book are a colourful lot. It is interesting to see how each person sees him/herself and how they are perceived by those around them.

For instance: Parviz Mansoor Samadi is an Iranian chef who fled his homeland, leaving behind his family as his life was threatened by the government. As he speaks and understands little Italian, he ends up working mostly as a dishwasher. Parviz takes to heavy drinking and feeding pigeons to quell his loneliness.

Is feeding the pigeons a crime punishable by Italian law? Now let me explain: as you know, Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore is a place where pigeons like to gather. I love the pigeons, I feel happy when I feed them. A man surrounded by pigeons is a sight that arouses the admiration of tourists, and inspires them to take souvenir pictures. And so I contribute to the promotion of tourism in Rome. 

You can read Parviz’s account, which is also the first chapter of the book, here on Words Without Borders.

Written by Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio was first published in Italian in 2006 before being translated into English by Ann Goldstein.

I came across this gem from Europa editions in a wonderful bookstore called Idlewild Books in Manhattan several years ago. I read it again recently and it is as brilliant as I remembered it to be.

This is an entertaining, hilarious, and thought-provoking read. Even though the novel first came out a decade ago, the theme of the book remains relevant – if not, even more so – in today’s increasingly global community.

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