Massimo Carlotto


"The Fugitive"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage OCT 22, 2007)

"Even now, I try to stay true to my ethical commitment, and I continue to say that life on the run is a state of mind, even though I actually believe that my experience as a fugitive might be more accurately described as a sort of meta-theater of survival. As in the commedia dell’arte, I was a face that gave origin to a series of different masks, caricatures of clearly defined social stereotypes, improvising day by day within the context of a general plot structure which was nothing more than the intertwining details of my wending progress through the halls of justice."

When I first came across the novels of Italian crime writer Massimo Carlotto, he instantly became a great favourite. As a fan of noir fiction, I was impressed. Well, more than impressed. Death’s Dark Abyss and The Goodbye Kiss are both incredibly dark crime novels, some of the best noir I’ve read recently. But there was something about these two novels that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…. You can’t read these novels without coming away with the idea that this is a man who’s experienced things that most of us, fortunately, never will. Only a man who saw everything he’d ever believed in systematically stripped away could write like this. If you’ve ever read any of his books, then you know what I am talking about, and if you haven’t read any, then a great reading experience awaits you.

A blurp on the back cover of one of Carlotto’s novels mentioned that he’d been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and after reading that I decided that this must hold the key to the author’s bleak world vision. I tried finding out more on the internet, but couldn’t. So when I saw that Carlotto had written The Fugitive, a book about his life on the run, well, I had to read it.

The Fugitive is an account of what happened to Carlotto when he decided to flee from a lengthy jail sentence for a murder he did not commit. His first stop is Paris where he is quickly absorbed into the underground community of various fugitives. Paris “has long been a destination for political exiles,” and he spends some time there, before fleeing, against the advice of friends to Mexico. It’s in Mexico that he’s finally caught and returned to Italy. This highly personal account describes the characters the author meets: the people who help him, and the people who betray him. Beaten and tortured by the police, a witness to the death of a mysterious cellmate, Carlotto is almost grateful to return to Italy where years of fighting the judicial system await him.

Carlotto never spares his fictional characters, so it should come as no surprise that he doesn’t spare himself either. He describes his battle with bulimia, the toll a fugitive life takes on his body, and his desperate longing to return to his family. Finally, he contemplates suicide as the ultimate way to avoid prison. This is not a traditional memoir, so Carlotto doesn’t approach it in a traditional fashion. Instead, it’s uniquely his and it’s perfect. The book includes a chronology of events describing the “conclusion of the longest legal proceeding in Italian history.” Carlotto’s ordeal lasted—officially—from 1976 until 1993, but after reading Carlotto’s novels, it’s clear that his experiences shaped him and continue to haunt him.

For fans of Carlotto’s work, The Fugitive is the complement to his dark novels. One of the themes Carlotto explores in his fiction is the elusive notion of Justice. In Death’s Dark Abyss, for example, the protagonist pursues Justice through revenge against the man who murdered his wife and child. Carlotto’s novels possess a disturbing haunting quality. His fictional world is a deeply unsettling place, but after reading The Fugitive, I now grasp what I suspected all along—that Carlotto’s “real world” is just as dark and troubling a place as his fictional creations.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews


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About the Author:

Massimo CarlottoMassimo Carlotto was born in 1956 in North Eastern Italy. At the age of thirteen he got interested in far-left politics, becoming an activist with Lotta Continua and getting involved in investigative and counter-information work. In 1976, after discovering the body of an acquaintance who had been brutally murdered, he was falsely accused of the murder, arrested and put on trial. Acquitted and then convicted (there is no double-jeopardy law in Italy), Massimo, on the advice of his lawyers, fled abroad to avoid imprisonment.

From 1982 to 1985, Massimo Carlotto lived under a series of borrowed identities in Paris and then moved to South America. During these years of exile he was supported and sheltered by the international community of political refugees and assisted financially by his family.

He worked in a number of capacities (pizzaiolo, translator, academic researcher) whenever he was able. In Mexico, he was betrayed by a lawyer, underwent torture following a case of mistaken identity, and then returned to Italy and to prison.

In 1986, Massimo Carlotto became the focus of an international defence campaign that won wide backing: the South American novelist Jorge Amado and the eminent Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio were among his supporters. In 1993 he was finally released from prison with a pardon from the President of Italy. He had been tried a total of eleven times and had amassed 96 kilos of court proceedings.

After his release, Massimo turned to writing. His first and most autobiographical novel, Il fuggiasco (Fugitive) relates the almost eighteen years between his arrest and his presidential pardon. A film version of Il fuggiasco, directed by Andrea Manni and starring Daniele Liotti, was released in 2003. It has won many awards.

He lives just outside Cagliari (Sardinia) with his wife and child.

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