“I’ll steal you away”: so says twelve-year-old Pietro Moroni to his best friend and secret lover Gloria, the most beautiful girl at school. And that’s the title of Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti’s second novel, published in Italy in 1999 and translated into English only after the huge success of I’m Not Scared (2001). The same year, I’ll Steal You Away inspired Italian sing-songwriter Vasco Rossi to write a song with the same name.
Set in Ischiano Scalo, a fictional Italian village somewhere between Rome and Genoa, where there’s nothing to do and nobody stops, the novel offers a bittersweet, grotesque yet ironic portrait of humanity. As journalist Christopher Bray wrote, “Ammaniti plays comedy and tragedy against each other”.
Big dreams, sad realities
I’ll Steal You Away depicts the stories of some memorable, extremely vivid yet surreal characters that well display Ammaniti’s “Dickensian touch for character study”. There is Graziano Biglia, a not-so-young playboy who traveled the world and is now ready to settle down in Ischiano Scalo, his native village. Here he meets Flora Palmieri, a fragile and lonely teacher who dedicates her life to taking care of her sick mother. Readers also follow the story of Italo Miele, the school caretaker with an irrational fear of Sardinians, that of Pietro’s elder brother, Mimmo, and his irreverent girlfriend Patti. Despite their own distinctive personalities, they all have big dreams and sad realities.
Yet, at the center of the novel lies Pietro: as the narrator says, he is “the real protagonist of the story”. He is a “small for his age”, shy and sensitive boy, tormented by bullies at school and ignored at home. Pietro spends his days on his bike, dreaming of flying and leaving his hometown with Gloria, his only friend. And when he decides to take on the bullies, things start falling apart “in a manner as unpredictable as the dark comedy of life itself”. Not just for Pietro, but for all inhabitants of Scalo Ischiano, whose stories eventually merge in an inevitably tragic end.
Ammaniti and I giovani cannibali (Young Cannibals)
Writer, journalist and script-writer, Ammaniti was a member of I giovani cannibali (Young Cannibals), an Italian literary movement born in the ‘90s influenced by rock music, pulp fiction, and comics. They wrote about the real, twisted world they were witnessing using violent images and a cruel style. Aldo Nove, Carlo Lucarelli, Enrico Brizzi, Tiziano Scarpa and Alda Teodorani were some of its most representative members.
Ammaniti’s third novel and masterpiece, I’m not scared, was translated into 35 languages. In 2013, Gabriele Salvatores adapted it into a film. In 2006 Ammaniti won the Strega Prize with As God Commands. Once again, it was Salvatores who adapted this novel into a movie. The title of his last book is Anna (2015): Ammaniti himself is the director and writer of the TV series based on this apocalyptical novel.