Carlotto, Massimo - 'The Fugitive' (translated by Anthony Shugaar)
THE FUGITIVE, Massimo Carlotto's first novel, is an autobiographical account of his life as "the Carlotto case". Carlotto was the defendant in a notorious Italian miscarriage of justice; he was falsely accused of murdering a student friend in 1976, and was only pardoned in 1993 after 11 trials and several years in prison. Following the failure of his appeal against the overturning of his acquittal in 1982, Carlotto spent several years on the run, first in Paris, then in Mexico, until he was betrayed by a Mexican lawyer, and deported back to Italy, to face further trials and imprisonment.
The book begins at the end of Carlotto's time as a fugitive, chronicling his betrayal, and brief period of imprisonment in Calle De Soto, Mexico City. Whilst imprisoned he was subject to torture by the Mexican police (due to a confusion of names, he is suspected of terrorism), and deportation to Italy. Carlotto is however more fortunate than his cell-mate, "Ramon" who dies following beatings.
After the horrors of his Mexican experience, Carlotto then describes the beginning of his life on the run, his initial tearful arrival in Paris, and adjustment to his new life. He is aided by left wing friends and political refugees, and funded partly by his family, and partly by any work he manages to find. Living in constant fear of the authorities, he goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid official notice, adopting different personas whilst in public. Unaware that no international warrant had been ordered for his arrest, Carlotto leads a precarious and paranoid existence; "...alarm bells would go off every time I saw someone lingering outside an apartment building doorway, a car or a delivery truck that I had never seen before". Any suspicion that his identity was known leads to his abandoning his current accommodation and all his belongings. This tenuous existence unsurprisingly takes its toll physically and psychologically, resulting in bulimia, and occasional brief retreats into a fantasy world.
Due to the strain, Carlotto then decides to move on to Mexico. He feels that being away from Europe will render him less likely to be tracked down and identified, and will avoid risks to the friends helping him in France. He poses as a wealthy student, studying at the University, leading a double life, alternating between socialising with other wealthy foreign students, and attempting to help organise the Mexican left, who are beleaguered, subject to internal rifts in addition to violent external opposition. His attempt to obtain Mexican citizenship results in him consulting the lawyer who betrays him. The book ends by focussing on the period leading up to his pardon by the Italian President, when Carlotto was in and out of prison (he was allowed out of jail for some time due to his ill-health).
Carlotto writes an engrossing, tragi-comic account of his years as an "accidental fugitive", and of the friends that helped him during this period. He discusses his time as a fugitive in Paris and Mexico City with surprisingly self-deprecating humour. He writes about his bulimia and eating habits with touching honesty, displaying a remarkable lack of self-pity considering the injustices he experienced. Overall, this is a fascinating read.
Read another review of THE FUGITIVE.
Laura Root, England