The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

After reading Andrej Longo's masterful collection of short stories, Ten (translated by Howard Curtis and long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014), I was moved to create a Wikipedia page for the author. A bit of digging around revealed coverage of the man's talent - in German and French and Italian - but little in English, so here are excerpts from a quick and dirty translation of Maike Albath's review of the book from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 22 September 2010.

These are tough, brutal short stories that take place in the streets of Naples between piles of garbage and the carcasses of feral dogs, in drab apartment blocks and sleazy nightclubs. They are framed within the Ten Commandments, but with the commandments turned on their heads, sometimes leading to absurd and tragic conclusions. The first commandment, for instance, 'I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me', refers to the local Camorra boss, Giggino Mezzanote, from whom the narrator Papilù, a tough seventeen year-old, has always striven to stay away. But when a tough type bumps into him and his girlfriend and incites a fight, Mezzanote arrives as a saviour. Papilù has no choice: despite wanting to lead a life different from his criminal father's, he has no alternative but to seek Mezzanote's protection. It is this inevitability that makes Longo's stories so upsetting.

In another tale, a man goes with his seven year-old boy to the fair, fully knowing that he is on the verge of execution by a rival clan. 'Thou shalt not kill' is the title of this story. In yet another story, a Camorra bride has managed a social advancement yet as her wedding approaches she is seized with panic. Longo's heroes, however, never succeed in turning the tables: they are victims of the crude Darwinism of Naples, always forced to endure their downfall with stoicism.

Longo's fast and sober narrative is suffused with spare dialogue, sprinkled with dialect and an expressive language invented by himself. Ten is reminiscent of a black-and-white photograph: all outline and sharp contrast. It's a minor masterpiece of hardboiled realism.


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