Benacquista, Tonino - 'Badfellas' (translated by Emily Read)
BADFELLAS is the fourth book by Tonino Benacquista to be translated into English and all four have been published by Bitter Lemon Press. Tonino Benacquista won a Cesar for writing the script of the film The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
In BADFELLAS we are introduced to an American family, the Blakes: Fred, Maggie, Belle and Warren who are living in a small town in Normandy. The Blakes have been living in France for six years now and the reason why soon becomes clear. Fred Blake was formally Giovanni Manzoni a high ranking member of the New Jersey Mafia, who has turned state's evidence to avoid jail. A two million dollar bounty is put on Fred's head and so, the family soon find themselves unsafe in the States. The FBI then decide that France is a good bet as the Mafia have no links there.
The first part of the book sees the family settling in and each individual reveals their personality including a memorable incident in which Belle takes a tennis racket to two boys who are "trying to get know her better". Fred finds an old typewriter and declares himself a writer and so the incidents of everyday life (for a Mafia family in hiding) are interspersed with extracts from Fred's memoirs which become increasingly important to him as a way of finding himself and to get to the truth.
Inevitably the family's location is revealed to those seeking revenge - through a series of unpredictable events - and the scene is set for a Western-style showdown.
BADFELLAS is a book which you'll read with a smile hovering on your lips nearly all the time. For example when the plumber comes to assess the Blakes' faulty water supply:
Fred had dreaded hearing what he then heard as as the man set eyes on the pipes: a low whistle of horror, which said everything that could be said about the gravity of the situation, the amount of work needed, the irresponsibility of the owners, the danger involved in not taking action, the astronomical sums this action would cost and the general disastrousness of the situation. This low sound had been a part of his training, a moaning blood-curdling whistle, repeated if necessary.
that meeting does not end as you'd might expect...
I really enjoyed BADFELLAS: the getting to know the family and the effect the exile is having on them and their FBI handlers plus Fred's entertaining memoirs, and all the while wondering how it will all end. As well as the Blakes' story there's a underlying theme of people being thwarted by the system despite following the correct procedure – they are ignored by those who should be looking after them.
Despite the occasional violence this is a beguiling read, delightfully translated by Emily Read, and it's a shame to get to the end. It's early days yet but BADFELLAS is, with no doubt, a contender for a place in my top five reads of 2010.
Karen Meek, England
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