Carlotto, Massimo - 'The Fugitive' (translated by Anthony Shugaar)
Massimo Carlotto, a member of a militant left wing organisation, was the victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice. The "Carlotto Case" was the longest drawn out fiasco in the history of the Italian judicial system, and is studied in universities as a worse case scenario. THE FUGITIVE, translated by Anthony Shugaar, was the first book Carlotto wrote after his pardon.
From 20 January 1976 when he reported the murder of Margherita Magello to the carabiniere until 7 April 1993 when he received his pardon from the President of the Republic he was involved in a total of 11 trials, these generated vast amounts of documents.
It is therefore a good thing that the chronology of the case and the Byzantine legal complications are dealt with in a judicial appendix. This leaves the main body of quite a short book to concentrate on Carlotto as a fugitive, his problems, his health, and his relationships.
The story begins with his betrayal by his Mexican lawyer, and moves back in time to his life on the run in Paris, his subsequent journey to Mexico City, and then his return to Italy to face prison.
The juxtaposition throughout the book of events that are both comic and then tragic is very moving, but a bit disconcerting. It is clear that Carlotto's sense of humour was an important asset in getting him through these traumatic years. He describes his German cellmate in the Calle de Soto prison as foolhardy, because he is a platinum blond Viking, with light blue eyes, and a poor Spanish accent trying to travel round Central America on a Guatemalan passport under the name of Ramon. Then Ramon dies after brutal questioning by the prison guards.
Carlotto describes in compelling detail the stress of being on the run, the temporary nature of existence, the various techniques to blend in with the population, his bulimia and the dreadful strain all this imposed on his failing health. He assumed various characters to achieve that blending in process and not all of these were successful. For example Jason the English computer expert working in Paris was a problem because he knew no English and absolutely nothing about computers.
On a bus heading for Mexico City he comes across twelve barefoot North Americans with no passports, dressed in white monk's habits and crowns of thorns, claiming to be the Twelve Apostles. But he brings you down to earth with a bump with the tale of Odile who loses her 4 year old son Julio on Mexico City's chaotic subway and a desperate search that fails to find him.
This is an inspiring book as it relates the story of a man living in the underworld, struggling against an oppressive system, but retaining his essential humanity. One sentence from a speech by a woman named Kissi, a member of the Milan Committee fighting for a pardon, sums up for me the message of much of Carlotto's writing.
"The people who are supposed to look out for you are busy picking your pockets."
This is a bleak but probably accurate view of much of our world.
You may not agree with Carlotto's politics, after all he grew up imagining Stalin as some sort of jolly uncle, but you can't help gaining a great respect for the man. Among the useful information I picked up from this book is that if Massimo Carlotto comes round to dinner you don't serve him armadillo.
I think anyone proposing to read the series of books featuring "Alligator" or Carlotto's other work would benefit from reading this fine book first, in order to gain more insight into the events that made him such an interesting author.
Read another review of THE FUGITIVE.
Norman Price, England