Dedicated to the departed in his own life, the new novel by Goncourt Prize winner Laurent Gaudé paints a wrenching portrait of the boundary between the living and the dead.
Naples, 1980. Matteo is dragging his son Pippo to school, angry at the boy for not walking faster, and too preoccupied to notice that shooting has broken out around them. Thinking that he is protecting the boy, he slams Pippo down to the pavement, covering his son’s little body with his own. Matteo goes into shock when the street fight subsides: as he lets go of his tight grip, he finds that Pippo is inert, caught by a bullet in the crossfire.
During the months that follow, Matteo and his wife, Giuliana, live silent and haunted days of shallows and miseries. By the end of the summer Giuliana decides to leave her husband, who seems incapable of doing what she’s asked of him: to either bring her back her son or the head of the person who killed him.
With the help of his new friends the mad professore, the café owner, the transvestite, and a priest, Matteo finds a gate leading down into hell, where he will switch places with his beloved son. Matteo’s eclectic group of friends become Pippo’s unlikely parents. When he comes of age, Pippo knows that he must exact revenge against his killer. By then there’s very little time before Matteo will descend too far into the world of the dead to help Pippo as he seeks vengeance, and even less time for him to find his mother and give himself back to her.
A depiction like no other of the correspondence between life and death, Gaudé has written a suspense-filled tale about one loving family crushed by fate and how, with the wisdom of the ancients, the trust of friends, and the transcendence of the dead, a mother, father, and son are reunited, just in time.