Most of “I’m Not Scared” by Niccolò Ammaniti was written from the perspective of a nine year old boy. As such it captures well what I remember feeling at that age. The details of how I felt and thought before I acquired more mental tools to comprehend and work through issues and also before the drive of hormones influenced my relations to girls. The excitement of bike rides and roaring free. In my case I did that in bustling city or at best at the park of the city, while the hero of this book and his friends spend their lazy summer in the heat of the Italy’s dusty countryside.
I read the book in English, not in its original Italian, thus I cannot judge the language and composition of the original. However Jonathan Hunt created or translated beautiful prose. the life of a small cluster of houses, adults and children; the elevation one feels when discovering a secret, the struggle to keep it; the anticipation of what can happen; the raw power of dislike turning into disgust, the rebinding bonds of friendships – these are just some of the themes that Ammaniti worked well into his novel. The book has a great cinematic quality. Quick check: sure enough they turned into a movie.
The big secret is that our young hero finds a dead boy in a hole, who turns out not to be dead. He builds a relationship with him, despite his poor state of mind and wants to rescue him. This ends up being more complicated than seems at first as he slowly learns how the boy got to this situation. The rescuer has his job cut out for him, that puts him into a position that forces him to think beyond his nine years of experience.
Every once in a while the perspective of the narration changes from the child’s and the reader feels it is a retrospective written by the same person after he grew up. The content of the very last page of the book dissolves this confusion but replaces with other questions that makes you look at the book from a whole new angle. Makes you recognize the grand tragedy of the choices we make, whether we are adults or children. Reminds us that consequences happen whether we do the right thing, like the child did, or the wrong, like his father.
The book was quick read, but it will linger long with me. It certainly is more than a simple mystery or a coming of age story or a social landscape,although it is all of the above.