La Malingredi by Gioacchino Criaco: Lands of pain

Nature is a good sedative, it soothes: it makes you indifferent. […] Only the indifferent are able to see things clearly, to be fair and to work. This only concerns intelligent and generous people.»wrote Anton Chekhov, in a letter to Alexei Suvorin (May 4, 1889).

The novel takes place on the Aspromonte massif in a mountainous Calabria emerging from ancient Lucanian and Norman legends. There, everything is tradition, misery, isolation and resourcefulness. Between the mafia and the poor land. Nicolino, often accompanied by his two friends, Antonio and Filippo, guides us in this ageless world, magnificently drawn by Criaco, at the height of an adolescent.

The text opens with three days of festivities for Saint Sebastian, the most painful of Christian saints (and the most represented). Prolonged martyrdom before the eternal. Three days narrated by the author who invites us to smell the scents of the village, a marriage of the smoke from the braziers, the mountain air and the smell of the animals. Before a great procession ending with the sacrifice of the bull, like the residue of a pagan background (which means peasant). The children are turbulent, the elders tell stories, and, isolated in height, the house of Don Santoro.

Pre-industrial Italy survived for a long time, as many Italian films have depicted: mama, the absence of electricity, the freedmen. Nicolino drinks his first beers, smokes, and commits his first crimes… A learning novel for a child whose father left when he was six years old never to return. What to look for surrogate fathers…

The characters are not described, only staged. They exist like puppets, almost archetypes. Rocco the bartender, the merchant’s fat son, Isidoro, the little thugs, the Dons, the matriarch Gnura cata to dad or even Papule the revolutionary, who baptizes the village before throwing it into revolt…

The mafiosos dominate and have a real power of attraction for the young people of the villages. The fathers have often gone to work in the north or in Germany, when the mothers find themselves around the country after toiling in the fields as day laborers. “Events, when they arose, were dark shocks, because they fell into a suspended world that seemed not to spin like the rest of the Earth. »

Criaco strives to depict the ruga and works as an ethologist. Everyone goes to eat at the other’s in a community spirit inherited from all the villages in the world. The matriarch tells the legends of the mountain and the region in the evening around the fire. In one of them, the ogre Salmandro dangles precious stones and sublime sweets, and woe to him who succumbs to them. Further on, the witch Forscherella is surrounded by birds that know how to reproduce any voice. Finally, if the evil Calabrian, like Ulysses with a thousand tricks, manages to overcome his two obstacles, the 7-headed dragon Palenur will remain which will stand in front of him…

The tension rises by small touches in this novel which takes the time to plant an atmosphere. The frame takes shape without hurrying, until a conclusion which imposes itself like a destiny. Traditional society is openly hierarchical and these are “the freedmen» and ” the bandits»who hold everything (and everyone) by their threatening presence. “ With their greasy mouths, their breath reeking of goat and wine, they caused laughter, and even sorrow. But then, in the villages, they were always in the middle of business, they slipped into every discussion, they pretended to solve every problem that they themselves had created or helped to create.Before the law gets involved.

The lack of perspective, the carefree moments of Easter week on the Calabrian beaches, and weddings… We rediscover the spirit of Italian films from the 60s when drama meets lightness. The priest Don Carmine slaps the back of the neck of the one who passes, at the head of the customer, and in this same bar, at the bottom of the mountain, we throw jokes at each other, before going to watch at the local cinemaDjango versus SantanaWhereThe Chinese Boxer.

We feel in the novelist a real pleasure in the description of situations and landscapes. He knows his subject perfectly, having been born there and returned to it. And shows through, in the distance he establishes with his characters, a great compassion. The anti Ellroy from his latest novel. A beautiful story that mixes genres and beautiful characters, between lyricism and determinism.

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La Malingredi by Gioacchino Criaco: Lands of pain

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