THE FIRST TRUE LIE by Marina Mander

Book Quote:

“I’m sure they’d send me straight to an orphanage as soon as they’d exhausted me with questions to work out how disturbed I am, because they’d never believe me. They’d never believe someone would stay with his dead mother in the apartment because he doesn’t want to go to an orphanage. It’s too simple an explanation, so of course they’d have to look for other ones.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (JAN 21, 2014)

This novel is told in the first person, from the point of view of Luca, a young primary school student living in Italy. His mother is 37 years old and has been profoundly depressed for years, talking little, moving slowly and feeling like her life has ebbed slowly out of her. Often she cries and Luca does not know how to console her. “When Mama has nightmares, she says it’s not possible even to sleep in peace in this world, and that’s what I think too. Other times she says the pills have stolen her dreams, that sleep is just an inky-black nothingness, and she wakes up confused and doesn’t know which way is up. Sometimes she makes coffee without putting in the water or else the coffee.”

Luca has always considered himself a “half-orphan.”  He has never met his father and has been raised solely by his mother, a single parent. “I would never, ever want to become a complete orphan because then things get messed up for real.” Luca’s mother frequently brings men home in an effort to provide a father for Luca. Things never seem to work out, however, so she ends up getting him a cat that he names “Blue.”  Blue is his constant companion and confidante, his friend and even his “personal assistant” after his mother’s death.

One morning, Luca goes into his mother’s bedroom to wake her up. She doesn’t stir and he is worried. He thinks she is dead but at first is not certain as he’s never seen a dead person before. He becomes pretty sure that she is dead over time and begins to panic. “What should I do? Should I wait a little longer, or ask for help right away? I can’t ask for help. If Mama is dead, I can’t tell anyone. If I tell, they’ll take me to the orphanage.” Being a “complete orphan” is Luca’s biggest fear. He doesn’t want to leave his apartment and go to an orphanage and so he leaves his dead mother in her bedroom and goes on with his life as usual including attending school, playing with friends, attending movies.

Luca is despairing. He cries unceasingly for his mother and is beside himself, feeling like he is in a void but also needing to be hyper-vigilent so as not to be caught. He can’t let others know that anything is wrong and so he must put on a facade that everything is okay. “Someone whose mother has just died can’t do homework, but that isn’t an excuse, because I can’t tell anyone about it. It has to stay secret, a really big secret just between us. I don’t want to end up in an orphanage.”

“I have to do my homework. I can’t risk them suspecting anything.”

Luca goes through all kinds of machinations so as not to draw attention to himself at school or with his friends. At one point, after his mother’s death, he even invites a friend over to his house. His friend notices the odor that emanates from the bedroom and Luca makes up all kinds of excuses. Luca realizes shortly that the odor of rotting flesh is overwhelming. He opens all the windows and lives in a freezing cold environment, regressing into a fantasy life and memories.

Luca is a creative and precocious child, a lover of words. He is like a mini-adult in many ways, wise about the world as one would not expect a child to be. However, a child can’t be wise about his mother’s death. It is an emotional experience that burns through and through and this is what the author has so poignantly rendered in The First True Lie. No matter how hard Luca tries to act “normal” after his mother’s death, he is reeling from the experience and must integrate it into his life. Unless this trauma can be integrated, it will overwhelm him.

Though this book is quite short at 143 pages, it takes on a horrific and tragic subject that honors and respects Luca’s character. He comes across as wise and childlike at the same time, a gifted child facing a world of paradox, terror, and hope.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Hogarth (January 21, 2014)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More from a child’s perspective:


  • A Fantastical Manual of Hypochondria (2000)
  • A Catalogue of Goodbyes (2010)
  • The First True Lie (2011; January 2014 in US)
  • Nessundorma (2013)

January 21, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary, Unique Narrative, World Lit

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