A tenant in an apartment building in Piazza Vittorio in Rome is found murdered in the elevator, and one of the tenants, Amedeo, has disappeared the same day. The police naturally suspect Amedeo who, they soon learn, is an immigrant, despite his fluent Italian and deep knowledge of Italian history and of Rome. The book consists of the interviews with the other tenants and acquaintances of Amadeo, interspersed with extracts from his diary.
At one level this book is Rashomon times two: the character of the protatogist is revealed by the other tenants of the building, through the filter of their prejudices. All agree that it is impossible that Amedeo could have committed the murder: he was unfailingly helpful and courteous, gentle, and quiet. And all the tenants disliked the victim: a crude brute who peed in the elevator and defaced it with graffiti.
Amedeo refuses to talk about his past, even with his new wife Stefania. We learn bits and pieces, but not until near the end of this small book do we learn why he is in exile.
Fundamentally the book is a satire on prejudice and small mindedness. The quasi-fascist professor from Milan who hates Rome and all southerners; the dog owning woman who can’t tell one nationality from another, and who thinks the word merci must be some kind of gypsy curse word; the Iranian immigrant who has been driven mad by drink and by exile, who can’t or won’t learn enough Italian to keep a job, and who relies on Amedeo to help him surmount every small obstacle.
It is a pity I can’t read this in Italian: apparently it makes subtle use of dialect and vernacular to reveal more about the characters. But the English translation is good, though lacking in endnotes to explain some of the cultural references.