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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

The Fugitive

Massimo Carlotto

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Fugitive

Title: The Fugitive
Author: Massimo Carlotto
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 162 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Fugitive - US
The Fugitive - UK
The Fugitive - Canada
The Fugitive - India
En fuite - France
Der Flüchtling - Deutschland
Il fuggiasco - Italia
  • Italian title: Il fuggiasco
  • Translated by Antony Shugaar
  • Il fuggiasco was made into a film in 2003, directed by Andrea Manni

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Our Assessment:

B : a grab-bag of fascinating and appealingly presented parts, but doesn't add up to quite enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 10/2/2011 Steffen Richter
Publishers Weekly . 12/2/2007 .
TLS . 14/12/2007 Joseph Farrell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Empörungspotenzial ist enorm, die moralischen Gewichte scheinen eindeutig verteilt. Umso verwirrender sind viele Einzelheiten." - Steffen Richter, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(T)his short book contains frequent digressions into local politics and the machinations of Carlotto's legal case—including his eventual presidential pardon—that interfere with his story of personal flight." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Carlotto gives a wry, offhand account of his own experience of officially condoned brutality, of fear and uncertainty, but the tone is surprisingly free of rancour or recrimination. The book reads at times like an instruction manual as it offers practical advice on how to construct, or reconstruct, a life." - Joseph Farrell, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his Introduction the author states what is apparently the obvious in his native Italy:

     I am a notorious legal case, the "Carlotto case." When someone happens to recognize me on the street, on a train, on a plane, they exclaim: "Hey, you're the Carlotto case !"
       English-speaking readers, on the other hand, are unlikely to be familiar with the case, and this is something of a problem.
       In his Introduction Carlotto does explain:
I hold the dubious distinction of being the longest and most drawn-out case in the history of Italian justice, as well as the most controversial. Moreover, I am studied in universities as a "worst case."
       A Publisher's Note at the end of the book offers a chronology of the whole sorry legal saga, but even so, between that and the rest of the book much remains a mystery. It's quite a mess to get oneself into, after all, and even if he actually was completely innocent of the murder charge against him readers surely would want to know more about the circumstances. Instead, beyond learning that Carlotto found the victim, near death, and was detained and then arrested after reporting the crime, there's nary a word about that. Dozens of questions remain unanswered, including: Why was he apparently the prime and only suspect ? Was he the prime and only suspect ? Was her murderer (assuming it wasn't Carlotto) ever found and charged ?
       Possibly all this is information that any Italian reader would know -- but that's not much help to the ignorant English-speaking reader.
       Then there's the legal saga, which sounds worthy of a book itself (and presumably several have been published in Italy ...), which includes Carlotto being acquitted after no less than three trials, only to have a court of appeals overturn the acquittal (!). A lot of what happened, especially after the trial phase, seems to have to do with the vagaries (and -- to further complicate matters -- changes in) Italian law, but at least a brief tour of this legal odyssey would have been helpful. Carlotto does address some of this -- especially the final stages of his case (which began in 1976, but was ultimately only resolved in 1993) -- but again, much is left undiscussed, including why they found him innocent and then guilty in the first (or fourth) place.
       As if all this weren't enough, the convict Carlotto actually spent most of his time not in prison -- as the fugitive of the title for part of it (but it's not like he escaped from prison to go on the lam), as well as after he turned himself in again, when he was soon released for medical reasons (no doubt leaving American prisoners shaking their heads at the soft treatment European prisoners enjoy).
       And then there's his time on the run, which does take up quite a bit of the book. Carlotto seems to have started out wanting to write about his fugitive-years, but after a solid start the book devolves into more of an anecdote collection that only again gathers itself together as he describes his post-fugitive years and the (still slow) resolution of his case back in Italy. There's quite a bit that's fascinating here, but without enough focus or, ultimately, going enough in-depth the book winds up being too scattered.
       It does begin very well, with the end of Carlotto's life on the run, in Mexico City in 1985. Mexico was the last stop for the fugitive, and Carlotto does a nice job of describing conditions there. He also does a decent job when he looks back a bit, at the rest of his fugitive-life (mainly in Paris), and there are some great scenes here. There's a palpable tension - of the concerns about being watched, about the need to move at pretty much a moment's notice. Carlotto describes stepping into character, and what characters he chose: most of it sounds silly and unconvincing (especially given some of the other chances he takes), but it's hard to judge from this distance.
       But here -- as throughout -- he almost never reveals enough. There are always people in the background -- a network of those willing and able to help -- but from contacting them or getting passed from one to another (and knowing whom to trust) to getting false papers Carlotto doesn't provide much detail. He worries when a call isn't made from a pay-phone, but constantly describes taking what seem like far bigger risks. And both a girlfriend and his parents seem to be constantly dropping by for visits, which makes one wonder how hard the authorities were looking for him. He takes odd jobs (and sets up an import business in Mexico !?!), but apparently was well-supported financially by his parents (again: where were the authorities ? -- 'follow the money' is the basic rule if you're trying to track down a fugitive ...). How did he do all this ? Alas, we're never told.
       There are a lot of revealing and entertaining stories about life on the run --though Carlotto loses a bit of focus, happy after a while to trot out anecdotes rather than offer a real narrative (at least until he gets back to the Italian part of his saga). Among the funny asides: his subversive activities as a translator of photonovellas (i.e. trash romances), slipping in social and political commentary (about which the publisher apparently never got any complaints):
I think I reached the high point of daring when I had the heroine of the series express profound sorrow over the death of Andropov and equally keen disappointment over the election of Chernenko.
       The Fugitive is frustrating because Carlotto tells a good anecdote and story, but he doesn't reveal enough. The questions that remain easily overshadow the snippets he offers. His priorities are also skewed, as he treats the reader to a great deal of discussion of, for example, his bulimia (well, it did help him get to him out of jail) while never really coming clean about so many other facets of his life. He does convey both the paranoia of life as a fugitive and the frustration of the Kafkaesque legal muddle he finds himself in, but leaves the reader almost desperately hungry for more.
       The Fugitive is an entertaining quick read, but it leaves one longing for the full story, which it doesn't come close to providing.

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The Fugitive: Reviews: Il fuggiasco - the film: Massimo Carlotto: Other books by Massimo Carlotto under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Massimo Carlotto is a popular Italian author.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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