Maghreb Voices

Book: Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Author: Amara Lakhous

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
– W.I. Thomas and D.S. Thomas (the “Thomas theorem”)

“Working as a journalist, I’ve come to understand that the reality we confront has neither value nor weight. It’s the imaginary that governs our actions, or, rather, reactions.”
– Amara Lakhous, Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Amara Lakhous was born and very well educated in Algiers, Algeria. He moved to Rome at the age of 25. What makes his contributions to Maghreb literature so valuable is not only his experience of the Berber culture that spawned him but also his insights into European culture and the conflicts that have incubated there for centuries. His writing transcends the absurdity and hypocrisy of the strife that surrounds him, in some strange way making it all bearable.

In Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet the city of Turin is rocked once again by tempests in the immigrant teapot; in addition to a series of murders attributed to a clan war between Albanians and Romanians, the Muslim community is in dispute over how to react to a deep insult; a video has been released of a piglet named Gino wandering around the prayer room at a local mosque.

The only ones who are getting any truth about these stories are you and I who read them; the characters themselves are all being fed a diet of sticky lies. The story is being told to us by a liar, an Italian journalist named Enzo Lagana, who seems at first to have long dispensed with anything resembling a conscience until it appears that one of his hoaxes has put an innocent Romanian in hot water. At this point his guilt gland activates and he seeks a remedy?which of course entails more lies.

To confuse matters further, Enzo keeps getting SMS messages from someone called “Very Deep Throat,” who points him in the direction of the truth. Enzo voraciously pursues every tip, but for his own sake, not for his readers. The result is a tremendously entertaining story that draws on a network of ancient animosities.

The lighthearted tone of the novel belies the seriousness of its subject matter. Enzo’s Calabrian comic sangfroid buffers the harshness of a long-standing European hostility toward immigrants, most notably from those whose ancestors were immigrants themselves.

Rather than putting a damper on all these tensions, the media at large is living in its own illusory world, trying to repeat the grand media events of the past (Watergate and famous Italian Mafia wars are often dredged up in reference to current events), shamelessly exploiting potentially dangerous conflicts in order to boost sales and advertising revenue.

At first Enzo looks like a playboy psychopath, but he and his deceitful helpers seem to be the only ones who see the situation clearly enough, and who have enough savvy, to find the way out of all the dilemmas. they’re also the only ones who seem to have any real compassion for the immigrants in their midst.

Meanwhile the piglet Gino attains a cult-like status, representing Italy itself in some nebulous way. He also becomes the animal-rights poster child, even while representing the Abrahamic revulsion toward swine-flesh.

By the end of the story you love the liar, Enzo, in spite of yourself. His refusal to conform to the wishes of others seems to be the only virtue that can overcome the morass of vice that is the postmodern European urban landscape.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.