Books

Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

I’ll Steal You Away

by Niccolo Ammaniti

From the author of the critically acclaimed best seller and Miramax indie hit film I’m Not Scared, a charming, tragicomic tale of a philandering forty-something Don Juan who returns to his small Italian village and how he dramatically changes the life of an unpopular, fragile young village boy.

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5945-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date September 27, 2006
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5824-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $23.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9770-2
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Italian literary superstar Niccolò Ammaniti’s debut novel, I’m Not Scared, prompted gushing praise, hit international best-seller lists, and was made into a hit indie film. Il Giornale called him “the best novelist of his generation” and The Times (London) wrote, “The new Italian word for talent is Ammaniti.” In his highly anticipated follow-up, Ammaniti takes his unparalleled empathy for children, his scythe-sharp observations, and his knack for building tension to a whole new level. I’ll Steal You Away is a fresh and classic story of a boy learning to be a man that delivers on the promise of Ammaniti’s debut.

In a tiny Italian village, separated from the rest of the world by a highway and a swamp, a young boy named Pietro is growing up tormented by bullies and ignored by his parents, with only his best friend, Gloria (the prettiest and richest girl for miles), for comfort. When an aging playboy, Graziano Biglia, returns to town, a change is in the air: Pietro decides to take on the bullies, his lonely teacher Flora finds someone else to take care of her sick mother for a few hours so she can go out with the town’s prodigal son, and the inept janitor at the school proclaims his love for his favorite prostitute.

But the village of Ischiano Scalo isn’t ready for such change, and when Graziano seduces and forgets Flora, both she and Pietro’s tentative hopes seem crushed forever. As Pietro’s dreams come crashing down upon his head, he realizes that only in leaving the town of his birth can he become the man he wants to be. With great tenderness Niccolò Ammaniti shines light on the broken hearts and heart-wrenching failures of ordinary people trying to live extraordi­nary lives. Through the eyes of a desperate boy and a self-aggrandizing small­town lothario, he shows how two very different people each come to realize that redemption must come from within.

Tags Literary

Praise

“Haunted by the ghost of Federico Fellini . . . Amarcord with attitude. . . . For a book that moves at a clip, I’ll Steal You Away is deliciously languorous. . . . Besides his gift for turning pages, Ammaniti has a Dickensian touch for character study. . . . The novel builds, with heartbreaking clarity, to on character’s utterly unpredictable demise. Anyone who thought The Bicycle Thief had told them all they needed to know about injustice has another thing coming.” –Christopher Bray, New York Times Book Review

“Edge-of-the-seat reading. Yet Ammaniti is more than a red-hot storyteller: his delineation of Pietro’s agonized adolescence and Graziano’s ridiculous, moving midlife crisis, his cinematic descriptions of village atmosphere and custom, the way he portrays Italy’s fabled old loveliness with its desperate embrace of Americanized pop culture, qualify him as an astute psychologist and sharp social critic. Teems with incident, wit and pathos.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Ammaniti gives the heartstrings a powerful tug.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Chilling and intimate, Ammaniti’s work brings life to a deceptively quiet town and its wealth of eclectic and unsettling residents.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Ammaniti beautifully evokes the lopsided streets of an Italian backwater and, especially in Pietro’s surprising friendship with the prettiest girl in the village, the shadow life of childhood.” –New Yorker

“A snapshot of small-town Italian life that could be, just as easily, a tale of small-town American life . . . Ammaniti weaves almost seamlessly between his characters as they spiral slowly toward their inevitable sad conclusions. A-” –Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

“Although the book deals with heavy issues, the 400-plus pages flow effortlessly. A surprise ending will blow readers away.” –Karen Walton Morse, Library Journal

“Skillfully written.” –Laurie Sundborg, Booklist

Praise for I’m Not Scared:

“Remarkable . . . Ammaniti . . . has distinguished himself as the most talented of his peers. . . . In prose that is by turns poetic and hard-boiled, he unfolds the story of a violent crime while
simultaneously evoking a child’s vivid imaginative life. . . . Reading I’m Not Scared is an exciting and provocative experience.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Gripping . . . The characters . . . spring to life, and the story builds to a heart-stopping climax. Readers will find this accomplished work hard to put down and even harder to forget.” –Publishers Weekly

“Ammaniti’s prose is faultless from the first. . . . The brevity of his sentences, the clarity and perfection of each image, gives his novel some of the flavor of a child’s picture book.” –The Independent on Sunday

Awards

Selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books 2006

Excerpt

18th June 199… 

It’s over.
Holidays. Holidays. Holidays.
For three months. An eternity.
The beach. Swimming. Bike rides with Gloria. And the little streams of warm brackish water among the reeds. Wading knee-deep, looking for minnows, tadpoles, newts and maggots.
Pietro Moroni leans his bike against the wall and looks around.
He’s twelve years old, but small for his age.
He’s thin. Suntanned. A mosquito bite on his forehead. Black hair cut short, in rough-and-ready fashion, by his mother. A snub nose and large hazel eyes. He’s wearing a white World Cup T-shirt, a pair of frayed denim shorts and translucent rubber sandals, the kind that make a black mush form between your toes.
Where’s Gloria? he wonders.
He threads his way through the crowded tables of the Bar Segafredo.
All his schoolmates are there.
All waiting, eating ice creams, trying to find a patch of shade.
It’s very warm.

For the past week the wind seems to have disappeared, moved off somewhere else taking all the clouds with it and leaving behind a huge incandescent sun that boils your brain inside your skull.

It’s eleven o’clock in the morning and the thermometer shows thirty-seven degrees Celsius.

The cicadas chirp away obsessively on the pines behind the volleyball court. And somewhere, not far away, an animal must have died, because now and again you catch a sickly whiff of carrion.

The school gate is closed.

The results aren’t up yet.

A slight fear moves furtively in his belly, pushes against his diaphragm and restricts his breathing.

He goes out of the bar.

There she is!

Gloria is sitting on a low wall. On the other side of the street. He goes across. She pats him on the shoulder and asks: “Are you scared?”

“A bit.”

“So am I.”

“Come off it,” says Pietro. “You’ve passed. You know you have.”

“What are you going to do afterwards?”

“I don’t know. How about you?”

“I don’t know. Shall we do something together?”

“Okay.”

They sit there in silence on the wall, and while on the one hand Pietro thinks she looks even prettier than usual in that light-blue towelling T-shirt, on the other he feels his panic growing.

If he considers the matter rationally he knows there’s nothing to worry about, everything was sorted out in the end.

But his belly is not of the same opinion.

He wants to go to the bathroom. There’s a bustle in front of the bar.

Everyone comes to life, crosses the road and throngs around the locked gate.

Italo, the school caretaker, comes across the yard, keys in hand, shouting: ‘don’t push! Don’t shove! You’ll hurt yourselves.”

“Come on.” Gloria heads for the gate.

Pietro feels as if he has two ice cubes under his armpits. He can’t move.

Meanwhile they’re all pushing to get in.

You’ve failed! says a little voice.

(What?)

You’ve failed!

It’s true. Not a presentiment. Not a suspicion. It’s true.

(Why?)

It just is.

There are some things you just know and there’s no point in wondering why.

How could he have imagined he’d passed?

Go and look, what are you waiting for? Go on. Move.

At last he breaks out of his paralysis and joins the crowd. His heart beats a frantic little march under his breastbone.

He uses his elbows. “Let me through ” I want to get through, please.”

“Take it easy! Are you crazy?”

“Keep calm, you idiot. Where do you think you’re going?”

He receives a couple of shoves. He tries to get through the gate, but because he’s so small the bigger pupils just throw him back. He drops down on all fours and crawls between their legs, circumventing the blockage.

“Calm down! Calm down! Don’t push ” Keep back, for Chr “” Italo is standing beside the gate and when he sees Pietro the words die in his mouth.

You’ve failed ”

It’s written in the caretaker’s eyes.

Pietro stares at him for a moment, then runs forward again, towards the steps.

He bounds up them three at a time and enters.

At the other end of the entrance hall, beside a bronze bust of Michelangelo, is the noticeboard with the results.

Something strange is happening.

There’s this boy, I think he’s in 2A, his name is ” I can’t remember his name, who was going out and he saw me and stopped, as if it wasn’t me standing in front of him but some kind of Martian, and now he’s looking at me and nudging another guy, called Giampaolo Rana, his name I do remember, and he’s saying something to him and Giampaolo has turned round too and is looking at me, but now he’s looking at the noticeboards and now he’s looking at me again and speaking to another boy who’s looking at me and another boy’s looking at me and everyone’s looking at me and everything’s gone quiet ”

Everything has gone quiet.

The crowd opens out, leaving him a clear path through to the class lists. His legs take him forward, between two wings of schoolmates. He goes on till he finds himself a few inches from the noticeboard, being pushed by the kids arriving after him.

Read it.

He looks for his section.

B! Where is it? B? Section B? One B, Two B. There it is!

It’s the last sheet on the right.

Abate. Altieri. Bart ”

He scans the list from the top downwards.

One name is written in red.

Somebody’s failed.

About halfway down. Somewhere around M, N, O, P.

It’s Pierini.

Moroni.

He shuts his eyes tight and when he opens them again everything around him is blurred and wavy.

He reads the name again. MORONI PIETRO FAILED He reads it again. MORONI PIETRO FAILED

What’s the matter, can’t you read?

He reads it yet again.

M-O-R-O-N-I. MORONI. MORONI. Mor ” M ”

A voice echoes in his brain. What’s your name?

(Sorry? What did you say?)

What’s your name?

(Who? Me ” ? Er ” Pietro. Moroni. Moroni Pietro.) And up there it says Moroni Pietro. And right next to it, in red, in capitals, in big capital letters, failed.

So that feeling was right.And there he was hoping it was just the usual sickening feeling he gets when he’s due to have a piece of classwork returned and he’s ninety-nine per cent sure he’s done really badly. A feeling which always turns out to be unjustified because, as he knows, that microscopic one per cent is worth far more than all the rest.

The others! Look at the others.

PIERINI FEDERICO PASSED

BACCI ANDREA PASSED RONCA STEFANO PASSED He looks for traces of red on any of the other sheets, but they’re all solid blue.

I can’t be the only one in the whole school who’s failed. Miss Palmieri told me I’d pass. She said everything would be fine. She prom ”

(No.)

He mustn’t think about it.

He must just leave.

Why did they pass Pierini, Ronca and Bacci and not me?

Here it comes.

The lump in the throat.

A spy in his brain tells him: Pietro, old pal, you’d better get out of here quick, you’re going to burst into tears. And you don’t want to do that in front of everyone, do you?

“Pietro! Pietro! What does it say?”

He turns round.

Gloria.

“Have I passed?”

Her face bobs up at the back of the crowd.

Pietro looks for Celani.

Blue.

Like all the others.

He tries to tell her, but can’t. He has a funny taste in his mouth. Copper. Acid. He takes a deep breath and swallows.

I’m going to throw up.

“Well? Have I passed?”

Pietro nods.

“Yesss! I’ve passed! I’ve passed!” Gloria shrieks and starts hugging the kids around her.

Why is she making such a fuss about it?

“Hey, and what about you?”

Answer her, go on.

He feels sick. Some hornets seem to be trying to get into his ears. His legs are limp and his cheeks are on fire.

“Pietro! What’s the matter? Pietro!

“Nothing. I’ve only failed, that’s all, he feels like answering. He leans back against the wall and slides slowly down to the floor.

“Pietro, what’s the matter? Aren’t you well?” she asks him and looks at the lists.

“Didn’t you pa … ?

“No …”

“What about the others?”

“Y …”

And Pietro Moroni realises that everyone is staring at him and crowding around him, that he, sitting there in the middle, is the jester, the black sheep (red sheep) and that Gloria is on the other side too, now, with all the others, and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all, that she’s looking at him with those Bambi-like eyes.

Reading Group Guide

1. The novel opens with Pietro Moroni failing his school assessment. As it turns out, this failure is a defining moment in young Pietro’s life. Are there any clues in this first chapter that this is more than a simple academic failure? Any intimation that this event is linked to something important in the past, and will cause further upset in the future?

2. Throughout the novel, the narrative shifts rapidly from character to character. Did you find the sudden movement away from the schoolyard into the world of a “professional gipsy” (p. 14), Graziano Biglia, somewhat unsettling? Discuss your first impressions of Graziano. Consider what his views on drug dealing say about his moral compass: “If you do it to make ends meet and you’re not trying to get rich, it’s okay. If you sell to friends, it’s okay” (p. 13).

3. Once Graziano has his vision of marital bliss with Erica Trettel, and becomes obsessed with their co-ownership of a jeans shop in his hometown of Ischiano Scala, does your view of Graziano change? Do you begin to empathize with him? Do you think the author wants you to empathize with him?

4. There are several instances of mismatched couples in the novel. Identify them, and discuss the success or failure of the relationships. Does the fact that people are very different from one another or come from dissimilar backgrounds necessarily mean that their relationship or friendship is doomed from the beginning?

5. At the center of the novel lies Ischiano Scalo, a small town squeezed between a swamp, the railway, and a fast-moving highway. How does the town, its environs, and its climate affect and shape its inhabitants? Find instances in which the novel’s setting contributes to a character’s actions.

6. Why do you think the author refers to Pietro as the “real protagonist” (p. 35)? Pietro is a young boy. What advantages or difficulties does a child protagonist present to the author? What are other novels whose protagonist or narrator is a child?

7. Discuss the importance of narrative tone throughout the novel. How do the narrative asides and opinions expand and complement the novel’s action? Find examples of interior monologues. How does the author use this technique, moving between the thoughts of various characters, to inject humor? Consider especially scenes between Federico Pierini and Pietro, and Flora Palmieri and Graziano.

8. The world within this novel is often filled with extreme violence and grotesque, visceral images. Discuss the details of some of the most memorable and shocking scenes. For example, recall the tortured tortoise, mutilated sheep, and dead donkey. What is the purpose of this level of violence and how is it reflected in the characters of the novel? Consider the striking scene of live crabs scuttling out of the stomach of a dead fish. Does this image represent something larger?

9. Humor pervades the novel too. What were the funniest parts of the novel for you? How would you describe this brand of humor? Does the author manage to make any of the darkly violent scenes funny? What is the effect of the tragicomic aspects of the novel on your appreciation of the characters? Are you able to feel deeply for them?

10. The novel is populated with many minor characters with multifaceted personalities, like Italo Miele, Bruno Miele, Mimmo Moroni, Federico Pierini, and Gina Biglia. How do these rich characters shape Pietro and Graziano?

11. The cruel brutality of Pietro’s home life is truly devastating. Are there any glimmers of hope for him there? Discuss the character of Pietro’s father in all its complexity. What is his worst parental action against his younger son? Why do you think he builds the catapult? He tells Pietro, “The first rule in life is to accept your own responsibilities’ (p. 196). How does he make Pietro live up to this rule? Does he live up to the rule himself? To what extent could this rule be applicable to other characters or situations?

12. In many ways, Pietro is a typical preteen–in search of himself. How do Gloria, Flora, Pietro’s parents, and Gloria Celani’s parents view him? What is it about him that makes people want to adopt him or take him under their wing? Or what makes him someone to be loathed by the bully, Federico? What is Pietro’s fatal flaw?

13. When Flora asks Pietro, “Who made you such a nice boy?” (p. 344), he responds, ‘my parents.” How truthful do you think he is being in his answer? Consider how much we are shaped by our parents, other people, and our environment. Does being a “nice boy” help Pietro in the end? Talk about the ways in which Flora’s opinion of him changes as her good fortune declines. She states, “The sooner you understand who you are, the sooner you’ll get better” (p. 369). What does she mean by this, and do you agree with her?

14. Many of the characters dream of escaping the grip of their hometown, whether permanently or just for a vacation. Why do they stay? Consider Pietro’s brother, Mimmo, with his ludicrous dreams of Alaska. Do you think he knows his dream is completely unrealistic? Where does Graziano fit in this theme?

15. Consider the different mothers in the novel and the ways in which they are portrayed. How do these mothers fail their children?

16. Discuss the character of Gloria. What does she represent? What about the world in which she lives? What does she see in Pietro? To what extent is she a catalyst for his action at the end of the novel?

17. Flora is a complex character. What are her strengths, her weaknesses–as a daughter, a teacher, a lover? How far would you agree that she is responsible for the events at the center of the novel? How do you feel about her decision to remain quiet about Federico’s involvement in the school break-in? Why is Pietro drawn to her? Why is she unable to save him? Does her relationship with her incapacitated mother draw sympathy or distaste? How much is she responsible for her own downfall?

18. When Pietro states that Flora failed him, what exactly does he mean? What are other examples of failure throughout the novel?

19. Were you surprised when Pietro pulled on the electrical cord? Contrast the description of this act of violence and of Flora’s death with other violent images throughout the novel. Did you find her death shocking? How did you feel about Pietro?

20. Contrast and compare Graziano’s relationships with Erica and Flora. Find instances of religious imagery around Erica. Throughout the novel Graziano manages both to attract and to repel the reader’s sympathy. Discuss your feelings for Graziano and the reasons for them. By the end of the novel he does seem to have changed. Have your opinions of him have changed too?

21. Amid the violent buffoonery of the novel, does anything good happen to anyone? Is anyone, other than Pietro, held accountable for his or her actions?

22. Were you surprised by anything contained within the letter Pietro sends to Gloria? How do you imagine Pietro’s future? Do you think that he will manage to steal Gloria away?

Suggestions for further reading:

My Idea of Fun by Will Self; Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Reservoir Dogs (screenplay) by Quentin Tarantino; Hide & Seek by Clare Sambrook; Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg; Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani; Martin Eden by Jack London; Italian Tales by Italo Calvino