A prolific and acclaimed writer in his Italian homeland, Erri De Luca’s thought-provoking, philosophical investigation builds in suspense ending with an emotional bomb. Although a work of fiction, to what extent Impossible is inspired by his actual experiences of being sued for an alleged incitement to sabotage to the Lyon-Turin high speed train line on environmental grounds is open for debate. (De Luca was cleared on 19 October 2015 when a not-guilty verdict was pronounced.)
A senator from the centre-left Democratic party supportive of the high speed train line, referred to De Luca as being a relic of the ‘years of lead’, the restless political period of the 1970s-‘80s when left-and-right-wing activists carried out numerous violent attacks, including the abduction and murder of former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter
An ageing, seasoned hiker is interrogated by an examining magistrate in a pre-trial investigation and placed in solitary confinement. His alleged crime: the murder of a man who fell to his death on a narrow, crumbling mountain path in a dangerous section of the Dolomites.
Accidents happen in the mountains, but the magistrate is suspicious since the two men were not strangers. They happened to be following each other along a mountain ledge, forty years after a trial in which one had informed on the other for his revolutionary activism whilst involved with a political organization viewed as a public enemy, resulting in a long prison sentence.
The accused is a loner who likes to go to the mountains to experience the immensity of nature. “I go to admire the forces up there that spend their limitless energy. This year I’ve crossed avalanches that have ripped up roads, forests knocked down by winds, mountainsides fallen into valleys. And, in the middle of these disasters, still animal life continues to exist and reproduce itself.”
The magistrate is half his age, knows nothing about mountains and is equally ignorant of the revolutionary movement in which the hiker was once involved. “The coincidence here arouses suspicion . . . For the two of you to have been there by chance is so improbable as to be impossible.”
Pressured to make a confession, the cool equanimity of the accused belies a hidden identity. He is unfazed by the conditions under which he is being detained and the suspense builds as his interrogator attempts to solve the conundrum. The accused is shrewd and not easy to read, “How you look for the truth of facts at a scene is a lost art.” His responses, though acerbic, are slightly cheeky.
Did he murder his old friend forty years on? What is the probability of randomly running into a former comrade-turned-traitor decades later in a conveniently remote mountain pass?
The young magistrate is convinced he knows the truth – that the accused is a murderer and not an innocent victim of happenstance – but he needs proof. His mindset is completely different to that of the ageing rebel with a cause, as he is a servant of the Italian state. And they are of radically different generations, with such different motivations, that reaching an understanding and reconstructing a complicated past lost in time appears to be impossible. Or is it, since philosophical problems arise out of real-life conditions?
In a world of deepening social and political polarization and snappy sound bites, debating matters more than ever. A bold and refreshing alternative to the popular fiction of Elena Ferrante or Roberto Saviano, De Lucca’s Impossible is a wonderfully-written-and-translated novella which makes you question the nature of justice, perception and reality. It is a timely reminder to see and treat people as individuals, not as some amorphous entity in a group. Buy the book and see for yourself!
Impossible by Erri De Luca trs. N. S. Thompson Mountain Leopard Press/Welbeck Publishing Group | 23 June 2022 | EAN/UPC 9781914495373
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