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Clearly I had never heard of Tonino Benacquista before. I have, however, become something of a student of Edoardo Balerini. I would be the president of his fan club, were he to have one. The man has engaged and entertained me in a way which beggars description. This book is the story of an Italian gangster and his family, who go into the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) after he testifies against his former colleagues. The family ends up in a small town in Normandy, the name of which I swear to you sounds something like Schlong-sur-Mer. The gangster takes the name of Fred Baker, and tries to convince an entire town bristling with French gossips that he is a writer, engaged in some magnum opus mysterioso. His wife and chldren are dragged most unhappily into this fiasco. It is torture for them to keep the lie going, but of course it is essential that they pull it off, as unspeakable deaths await them if they fail. Mr. Baker's real name is Giovanni Menzano, I believe. The wife and kids have to invent names and full identities for themselves. They have one so-called friend, who is their supervisor in the WITSEC program, a man named Tom Quintiliani. (Please forgive me if I am messing up these names: it is very hard to memorize names when you are laughing out loud at the story, and at the exquisite predicament this family is in.)
Edoardo Balerini has now reached a pinnacle (in my mind) which no other living narrator has ever come close to. It's not just that he's Italian; you can hear the pronunciation of his own name sound more Italian with each book. Since the book is set in France, Mr. Balerini must master a large variety of French accents and individual speech proclivities. You just cannot imagine how funny this is until you hear it. It is easy for Americans to make fun of the French, for reasons which have little to do with this book in particular (they are, though, so ENTIRELY full of themselves): please stop me now before I become quite tasteless. The plot ambles around in a good-natured sort of way. I actually got lost, as I was reading about four other books at the same time, and I discovered that it was a complete pleasure to start this book from the very beginning again. I realized that some of the jokes had just filtered through my cortex without being stored in memory (a fancy and preposterous way of saying that I forgot them), and so each was funny anew. This one is a winner. I hope Mr. Benacquisto has more up his sleeve. From the sounds of Mr. Balerini's voices I would guess him to be in his forties: how very, very lucky for us.
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I enjoyed this book, but mostly because of the narration. Eduardo Ballerini is truly a gifted talent. The story is okay. I found Fred, the male character, hard to tolerate with all his mafia-laden ways and egotistical viewpoint of the world. The family as a whole is hard to develop feelings for, although the mother, Olivia, seems the most human. I don't know how realistically this story portrays life in the witness protection program, or if it even was meant to, but I probably would not have finished the book if I were reading it.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful