“La maligredi” by Gioacchino Criaco: a novel full of death (and life)

The maligredi is an exciting, gripping, moving novel. A shocking story, desperate but also full of hope. Between story, testimony, social novel, thriller. A novel that vibrates and excites, carried by a rich and poetic style.

© Basso Cannarsa

By the Ionian Sea, almost at the end of Italy’s tip, in Calabria, lies Africa. This is New Africo (Africo Nuovo), a village created when the old village was destroyed by a flood. The residents were then rehoused by the sea The area is swampy and smelly. The houses built hastily are miserable; living conditions, terrible. In fact, it is a refugee camp. No wonder the train does not stop there! There can be no station as the village was built in the middle of nowhere. No wonder organized crime took over. It is not only the state that is absent. With the exception of a few peasants, most of the able-bodied men traveled to northern Italy (Milan, Turin, the Fiat factories in Mirafiori) or northern Europe (Germany, Belgium, France) and sent money to the families who were waiting for them (sometimes in vain ). Africo Nuovo is not even a village. It is “a curse” where one goes “to atone for his sins”, as Rocco, one of the characters in The maligredi.

maligredi-maligrediGiovacchino Criaco tells us about life in Africa through the mouth of one of the children, teenagers who live there, Nicolino. The 400 strokes during the village festivals, poverty, cold, poor quality food, diseases and health care … The school in the next village, and the need to take the train, every day, morning and evening – how to reach a train that does not stop? ! The inevitable encounter with bandits and the discovery of easy money, a diabolical temptation for these young people who do not want to run away like their fathers who get bored at school. The evenings at the bar, the discovery of alcohol – there are no drugs (yet) in Africo Nuovo. “don” of ‘ndrangheta, who reigns here.

Gioacchino Criaco tells us about grief and despair. But also mothers’ love for their children, friendship, summers on the beach, the very strong solidarity between the inhabitants of the district, the evenings around the only available TV, the tales of the “gnura”) … And so insane hope brought by Papule one summer that change is possible. With its left-wing ideas and its red and black flags, Papule incites certain inhabitants of Africa to reject the established social order, which humiliates them by ignoring them and enslaving them. A few months of struggle and hope, with smiles and meetings, of crazy projects. Only a few months before, the state and organized crime succeed in regaining control. Can things really change? Is there hope for the inhabitants of such “villages”? Or does the curse Rocco was talking about really exist?

The issue is all the more painful since Africa, which serves as the framework for The maligredi not arising from the pessimistic but rich imagination of Gioacchino Criaco. The village of the novel actually existed (and by the way still exists) and it told the story and the village, even though it is fictionalized. It did not take place in the 19th century. Not in a distant era. The deportation of the inhabitants of Africo Vecchio took place after the flood in 1951. The village was first demarcated in the 80s. It was not until 1991 that the President of the Italian Republic gave a coat of arms to the village! And the presence of ‘Ndrangheta is not an invention either: In 2014, the village was disbanded due to the spread of organized crime … And Gioacchino Criano knows the village where he was born and its situation well. He knows the ‘Ndrangheta’ well – his brother, Pietro, who has been imprisoned since 2008, was supposed to be one of the heads of the organization. Gioacchino Criaco knows what he’s talking about and he talks well about it. With a very special style, very beautiful, full-bodied and dense, he gives us to read a novel that is a story, almost a testimony. That’s the beauty of it. Everything that is written is invented, but anchored in reality. It is the experience, the experience that guided the pens of this great Calabrian writer. Fact, The maligredi is both hopeless and luminous, full of life as well as death, full of hope and despair. A novel that vibrates, that thumps. A novel of flesh and blood.

Alain Marciano

The maligredi
Italian novel by Gioacchino Criaco
Translated by Serge Quadruppani
Publisher: Métailié
22.5 euros, 384 pages
Release Date: June 3, 2022

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