think you’ll be surprised.’ I was. And I’m prepared to bet that I won’t be the only one, and that we’ll be hearing about this novel when the literary prize season is upon us this autumn.
    On first reading, this novel appears to tell a story that is not particularly original: a young hoodlum and a veteran terrorist, a survivor of the ‘Years of Lead’, meet by chance in prison and break out together. Then, as much out of choice as of necessity, they team up and organise a bank heist that turns into a bloodbath. The formula seems to be that of the traditional crime novel, but appearances can be deceptive. This novel overturns all the rules of the genre; it is a lot more and a lot better than a simple story of small-time crooks. The book has two plots that are inextricably interwoven, ultimately merging.
    The sub-plot is that of the two protagonists’ escape from jail, the preparation of the heist, the heist itself and the resulting fiasco, against a background of gangland turf wars. It is the simple, effective storyline that hooks the reader from beginning to end, without allowing a pause for breath. Grafted on to that is the ‘main’ story, the one that the veteranterrorist tells his young companion, initially in prison, in the form of flashbacks, then during the run-up to the bank robbery. What the book reveals is both how the Italian left-wing extremist groups, born out of the widespread workers’ struggles of the 1970s, very quickly turned to violence and ended in gangsterism in the ’80s, and the extent to which that violence, perhaps because of its radical nature, was able to seduce our young hoodlum, and probably many other young Italians, to the point of binding him to his cellmate until death. When they are on the run, their shared love of violence inevitably leads to serious crime, into which the young hoodlum introduces his companion, then follows him, in a sort of mirror initiation novel. A classic path for an entire lost generation.
    The narrative is raw, full of suspense, emotions, told with tremendous honesty. No caricatures, no stereotypes, the characters are all wonderfully alive. And the author has a definite, well-controlled sense of dramatic tension.
    When I discovered that this is a debut novel by a very young Italian, who has been a refugee in France for the past few months, I naturally wanted to meet him to find out how much of this story was autobiographical, and how such a young man could have written something so accomplished.
    We met in fairly conventional surroundings, near the publishing house, in the bar of a big Paris hotel with deep leather armchairs, coffee tables and a secluded atmosphere. The author arrived with an interpreter and the publisher’s publicist: they are keeping a close eye on their little prodigy. It soon turned out that we didn’t need the interpreter, since with a bit of effort we managed to understand one another. He is indeed very young, barely twenty-three, I’m told, but looks eighteen – a delicate figure, with the appearance of a teenage pop idol beneath a mop of black hair. He sits bolt upright, slightly rigid, self-conscious, in his blue jeans and white T-shirt. He rarely smiles and speaks very little. I could feel hewas on the defensive, which is a very appealing admission of vulnerability. I tell him right away that I’m enchanted.
    We get off to a rocky start. When I ask him how much of the book is autobiographical, he snaps back, ‘It’s a novel. That’s it.’ I press him a little, mentioning what I’ve read in the author biography provided by his publisher, plus my own research into his past life of crime, his spell in prison, his escape, the similarities between the episodes in his novel and recent events in Italy, and in which he himself was involved, directly or indirectly – that is for him to say. And lastly, I ask him about applying for political asylum in France, which he has apparently been given, or will be given shortly. That is

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