Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, by Amara Lakhous, trans. Ann Goldstein - book review: 'State-of-the-nation satire that brings home the bacon'


The piglet of the title, a "pure Piedmontese" called Gino, belongs to Joseph, the Nigerian neighbour of Enzo Laganà, a southern Italian journalist living up north in Turin. And the reason it's so very Italian is because it is causing a crisis in the neighbourhood, having been filmed running around inside the local mosque.

The Muslim community wants Gino handed over and killed; an animal rights group wants him rescued; Joseph just wants Enzo to sort everything out. Which he probably would, if he wasn't neck-deep in his own heap of trouble. When four Albanians are murdered, and his editor demands a story, Enzo concocts a feud between Albanian and Romanian criminal gangs. The editor splashes it on the front page, and then, when three Romanians turn up dead, demands an interview with the "Deep Throat" that Enzo invented as his source.

Enzo turns to his old actor friend Luciano, who gives a phone interview as Luan, an Albanian crime boss. But of course that gets splashed, too, and soon Enzo and Luciano are inventing Deep Throats two and three, a Romanian crime boss to match Luan, and then a Nigerian madame, who explains why the bloody feud has so unexpectedly died out.

In truth, though, it never existed. The real reason for the killings, Enzo learns, is to do with a money-making scheme of the 'ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian organised crime syndicate. Its strategy for moving into the lucrative housing market is to drive down prices by turning neighbourhoods into undesirable "rat's nests", then buying them up and gentrifying them. Charming!

This short novel, then, is something of a state-of-the-nation affair. The three fake interviews which Luciano thoroughly researches are printed in full, and even as Enzo is trying to keep his lies from collapsing around him, he is uncovering the truth of contemporary Italy, pressed on the one side by deeply traditional forms of corruption, and on the other by the imperatives of multiculturalism and globalisation. The 'ndrangheta "carries out the same function as other criminal organizations, that is, it fills the void left by the state".

Amara Lakhous keeps things light – the book is half media satire, half crime caper – and to that extent it's a success, although the translation, by Ann Goldstein, has its lumpy moments. "My amiable crusade against marriage has no reprieve in sight" is a sentence that has lost any sense of the ironic tone it presumably once carried.