Title: Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio
Author: Amara Lakhous
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
It takes so many people to make this world. This thought came to me as I walking home one day from work. I was thinking about my neighbours and how all of us were so different and staying in the same apartment, living lives unknown to each other and the occasional bickering that would take place. It is almost like a universe – an apartment – Georges Perec immortalized this in his famous book: “Life: A User’s Manual” (which according to me everyone must read). From there, I would like to introduce the read I finished off-late: “Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio” by Amara Lakhous. The name is long, the story is super and the writing is superlative in so many ways.
The book is about society, its norms, a satire on how we live and a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. The story is centered on an apartment in Rome and the people living there – from different cultures and castes. A murder then takes place, of a man over an incident/s in the elevator. An investigation is thrown in and each of the neighbours is questioned. The reader is given a glimpse of the investigations, each neighbour with his own story to tell. From these stories, come the minor stories (not so minor after all) of racism, of superiority, of being treated differently and that of being an alien in a foreign country. This is the crux of the book.
The book hit hard on so many levels, more so funnily at times. That is the format of the book – the essence more like – satire and black humour, which adds what the book needs. So many times while reading this book, I got thinking to how we judge people and also perceive too soon. This is despite calling ourselves “educated”. We do not think twice before forming an opinion and this book is all about that – of shattering perceptions and how it can affect the way of thinking, almost leading to murder sometimes.
Lakhou’s writing is striking; more so because it is in the form of monologues in every chapter, is breezy and effortless. I loved how she was bang on how people think of each other, depending on the situations. For instance, the Italians think that they can do no wrong and it has to be the foreigners who are to be blamed for everything and the foreigners think that they are being done wrong because they aren’t from that country. You can see this happening in almost every single country and this book mirrors these conditions and yet in a bitingly funny manner. A must read for those who want to explore new writers and something different. Highly recommend it.