Alberto Bevilacqua, whose career began in the sixties and has continued unabated since, is one of Italy's most prolific writers. Much of his work has been set in and around his native city of Parma, and Gialloparma is no exception. This sometimes blistering examination of provincial mores (its title means both "Parma Yellow" - for the color of many of the buildings there - and "Parma Thriller") centers on the upper reaches of Parmesan society in the prosperous 1990s. The group portrait of these people that Bevilacqua acidly sketches documents the foibles, transgressions, and occasional crimes of his fellow Parmigiani.
The characters who appear in Bevilacqua's pages are creatures of violent and rarely restrained passions that manifest themselves in their vigorous appetites for sex, possessions, power, and money. The Parma that appears here is a closed world where no one's secrets are respected or can remain hidden very long. In this tight and suspicious atmosphere, old cruelties and peccadillos stretch across time and the advent of new generations. Parents and their offspring (both legitimate and not), lovers and their rivals, cuckolds and their betrayed mates whirl within the Po Valley city like creatures from Dante's Inferno in a poisonous embrace of hostility and envy, suspicion, and covetousness, rivalry, desire, and contempt.
It is in these circumstances that the multiple and excessively brazen seducer Giulio Pagani is shot to death at a notorious open-air trysting site just outside the Parma city limits. As he proceeds to look into this crime, investigating magistrate Bocchi soon finds that he has not too few but far too many suspects from the city's rich and successful-all with reasons for killing the charming but insouciant Pagani. Since Bevilacqua's book is first of all a whodunit and only in the second instance a work of social comment and metaphysical reflection, I will not reveal anything more about the twists and turns and eventual outcome of Bocchi's investigation. What must be said, however, is that despite the disappointing showing of some of his other recent work (see e.g. WLT69:1, p. 115), it is clear from Gialloparma that Bevilacqua is still master of a corpulent and almost fragrant prose that one is tempted to compare to the luscious culatelli sausages and delicate hams of his native region.
Gialloparma is stout fare for the literary palate, palpable evidence that this veteran writer has lost none of his ability to sketch characters in economical and memorable fashion and to keep his plot moving and under control. While the novel seems unlikely to win him new friends in the city that it criticizes so pitilessly, it does seem likely to find plenty of readers throughout Italy, in the process enriching this prolific author's already robust canon of literary achievement.
Charles Klopp Ohio State University
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1998|
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