Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

Amara Lakhous

PUBLISHED 01.01.2007

READ
11.07.2018 – 11.08.2018

GENRE Fiction

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In praise of the gimmick

In many ways, Italy is the perfect place for a book like this, with tons of conflicting stories and suspicion. It’s a country with a long, long history of infighting; while reading this book I kept coming back to reading about the Renaissance, and thinking about how until more recently than its peers, Italy was a loose collection of city-states rather than a country. (It came up a ton in this book: people from Naples not trusting those from the north or whatever. As someone from a country that in all honesty is like a loose collection of city-states, this felt familiar and gave an interesting angle on the anti-immigrant and xenophobic characters of this book.)

I’m a sucker for a book with a great gimmick like this. We read something in middle school like this that also used a kind of Rashomon device, where each person in an apartment building had something to do with a garden – I don’t remember much about the book besides really enjoying it. There’s a lot of similarity here in gimmick but there’s a reason that book was in middle school. Clash of Civilizations is more grown up, more biting, more satirical, funnier, more political.

One of the best things about this book is actually its length, because of how funny this book can be. I feel like in another author’s hands this could have become a tome really examining the human condition. Lakhous tells exactly the story he wants to. It’s short enough that the humor stays sharp and fresh, which is what makes this such a fun read. As it turns out, he proves that telling an Important National Story of a changing society on a scale of a single apartment building can be an often laugh-out-loud experience.