THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY by Gianrico Carofiglio

Book Quote:

“I had a vague idea, just as I was vaguely aware that I was about to cross a threshold that night. Or maybe I’d already crossed it.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (AUG 14, 2010)

The Past is a Foreign Country from former anti-Mafia prosecutor, Gianrico Carofiglio is primarily a psychological tale. While the novel contains a crime story, the main focus, and perhaps even arguably the main crime, is the complete and utter corruption of one human being by another.

Giorgio is a serious young man, a law student dedicated to his studies and committed to his long term girlfriend, but his life changes radically when he’s befriended by the charismatic, good-looking Francesco. They meet at a party when Giorgio intervenes in what threatens to develop into a full-blown beating, and then gradually the two young men form a dangerous relationship. Francesco is a cardsharp, and he introduces Giorgio to his criminal lifestyle. Soon Giorgio partners with his “mentor” Francesco to spend endless nights bilking suckers in the seedy back rooms of bars and clubs. Giorgio’s moral code is systematically stripped away as he finds himself eased into an exciting life of gambling, booze, drugs and casual sex with bored women.

Giorgio’s corruption is an insidious process, and at first Giorgio isn’t even aware that’s it’s happening. When he does realize it, the recognition is punctuated with denial. He’s distanced from everyone who loves him and just like any addiction, he’s in too deep to be able to get out….

While Francesco begins as Giorgio’s mentor, it’s clear that Francesco’s designs on Giorgio are motivated by power and control. Giorgio is seen as a hollow human being who’s swayed by Francesco’s Ubermensch-inspired bizarre moral arguments. Here’s Francesco arguing why cheating at cards isn’t immoral:

“People manipulate and are manipulated, cheat and are cheated constantly, without realizing it. They hurt other people and are hurt themselves without realizing it. They refuse to realize it because they wouldn’t be able to bear it. A magic trick is an honest thing because we know in advance that the reality of it is different from the appearance. And in a way, on a universal level, cheating at cards is honest too. I mean, we’ve taken control of the situation away from pure chance and put it in our own hands. I know you understand. That’s why I chose you. I wouldn’t say these things to anyone else. We’re challenging the mindless cruelty of chance and defeating it. Do you understand? You and I are violating commonplace rules and choosing our own destiny.”

If you’ve ever wondered how the demonic partnerships of people like Leopold and Loeb or Ian Brady and Myra Hindley got started, then you’ll be interested in The Past is a Foreign Country. Ultimately this is a novel that examines the issue of identity and its relationship to morality. The process of maturing includes discovering exactly what one is and isn’t capable of, and in this story, Giorgio’s sense of self is gradually eroded by the much stronger-willed, Francesco. Under Francesco’s tutelage, weak-willed Giorgio becomes his “mentor’s” doppelganger and his willing pupil. While the reader may experience some frustration at Giorgio’s inherently weak nature, the story is riveting. The tale gathers momentum with shades of foreboding and the irresistible fascination of watching an imminent train-wreck. Carofiglio pulls the various threads together for an explosive collusion course in this elegant Italian crime novel. (Translated by Howard Curtis.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (July 20, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Gianrico Carofiglio (in Italian)

Wikipedia page on Gianrico Carofiglio

EXTRAS: Excerpt
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August 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: italy, Psychological Suspense

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