I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

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A title which represents as much bravado as you might expect a nine year old Italian boy to have: I’m not scared. And while he might boldly declare he’s not afraid, the farther I read the more fearful I became. Because the subject of this book is not about ogres, or witches, or fanciful creatures. No, the fear comes from a much deeper place: the darkness and confusion of humankind.

Michele Amitrano and his friends are playing on a scorching day in the fields of their small, country town named Acqua Traverse. Inherent to the games a group of children may play, are the dares and the forfeits. “Let’s race to the top of this hill. Whoever is last has to do a forfeit.” Of course, fat Barbara is last. She can’t possibly compete in such a challenge and come out on top. Her forfeit, invented by Skull, involves taking down her pants from which Michele bravely saves her. But now he must accomplish the dare of crawling through the abandoned house behind the hill and coming out the window on the other side.

What he find inside the house is a dead boy. At least this is what he thinks. But when he comes back alone, the next day and the next, he keeps discovering something worse about what he has found in the hole of the house, a hole covered by corrugated fibre-glass and an old mattress, yet unable to conceal the truth inside.

Even though he promises his father, Michele cannot stay away. He is the one of unparalleled courage, he is the one with integrity, although he is only a child. A boy with limited power, defenseless against the very thing he calls home.

This is a shocking book, brief but unforgettable, illuminating a world of darkness that makes me thankful for the childhood that I had. That reminds me the things of our childhood stay with us forever.

Find more reviews here, here, and here.

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28 thoughts on “I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti”

  1. I found this book deeply affecting when I read it several years ago…certain scenes and images stayed with me for quite some time. There’s a film adaptation too – it’s good, definitely worth a look.

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    1. As I was reading, the scenes were unfolding like a film would…but I wonder how much would be lost in a movie because there is much going on behind the “action”. This poor boy. The only brave one in the bunch, the only one with enough character to do something against the wrong. And the scars he must suffer? I can only say I’m glad it’s fiction, and woe to anyone who causes a child such trauma in real life.

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      1. Yes, I think the book offers more than the film on that front (it’s been a while since I read it so my memory is a little sketchy!). The film is very good though: well-crafted with excellent performances all round.

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  2. My best friend in grad school read this one and recommended it to me, but I never got around to it. I’ve thought about it over the years and have always been tempted to add to my TBR pile. After reading your post and your last comment that the things from childhood stay with us, I am even more intrigued. I’m definitely kindling this one ASAP. Great post!

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    1. I don’t think you’ll find such a deal as you did for Quiet Chaos! But, it is a very good book, and hopefully you’ll find your library has it as mine did. Well, was able to obtain through LinkedIn. At any rate, it’s short, I read it just this morning before conferences, but quite powerful. And, I’m a baby when it comes to horror so don’t think this is something you can’t manage.

      I’m having such a good time going through some Italian authors, famous where they are, but previously unknown to me.

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  3. I also watched the film a few years ago and thought it was really good and very powerful. I keep thinking of reading the book as I keep seeing it in my local library.

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    1. It wouldn’t take you long, Jonathan. The book is only around 150 pages, and while I’m not a fast reader, I read it in one morning. It would be interesting to compare to the film, I think. (Films are always so much graphic to me, what I can bear in a book I couldn’t in a film.)

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      1. I think that some modern writers write with film techniques in mind. I think if I were a writer I’d probably do the same thing. I also think that 50 pages of a book corresponds well to 30 mins of film – so books between 150-250 pages transfer well to film.

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        1. So many times the film from a novel disappoints me. But, I completely agree with you that 50 pages of a book corresponds well to 30 minutes of film. In that case, this book is ideal. Plus, Ammaniti’s imagery is so very real in the book alone.

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  4. This sounds like it could be very disturbing, but after glancing at a few more reviews, I think it might be worthwhile. I love a good mystery, but I’m a bit wary of one involving a young child.

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    1. It is described as a coming of age novel, too, Lesley, and that is quite accurate. But, not only is it coming of age, it’s dealing with a foundation you assumed was once solid and now is gone forever.

      I thought I couldn’t handle Emma Donaghue’s Room, and yet that is a book I will never, ever forget.

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      1. OK, I’m convinced! Off to see if my library has a copy. In an effort to eliminate clutter, I am on a book-buying freeze. Not that I ever really buy a lot of books. Somehow, I think they multiply like rabbits while I’m sleeping.

        Have a great weekend, Meredith! I love Friday evenings, don’t you?!

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        1. I hope your library has a copy; I’d love to talk about this with you. I just received word that Girl on The Train is waiting for me at our library. I have to read it to see what the fuss is about. I wonder if I’ll like it…

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    1. There are so many fantastic books, especially from other countries, which are outside of my awareness. I have to consciously search them out, as I am doing lately, and it’s wonderful when they don’t disappoint me. Can’t wait for the long list from the IFFP (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize) coming in March. Those were some of the best books I read last year.

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  5. I’ve been curious about Ammaniti, especially about how he’s viewed in Italy. There’s a joke about him – though hard to tell whether at his expense – in Paolo Sorrentino’s terrific film La Grande Bellezza (a title that might interest you!). I have one of his books sitting unread on the shelf, but the plot of this one seems more intriguing.

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    1. I do not know how he is viewed in Italy, only that he is a best selling author, which in and of itself doesn’t always bode well. When were the masses ever right? 😉

      Thank you for the reference to the film, which I will look for.

      The plot of I’m Not Scared is quite intriguing. I have waiting for my on my side table another title of his: Me and You. After that, and a few more, I hope I’ll be more equipped to talk about his writing. Let me just say it’s off to an engaging start.

      Which novel of his is unread on your shelf?

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      1. I’ll Steal You Away is the one I have.

        Hope you enjoy the film – it won an Oscar for best foreign film last year (English title: The Great Beauty), but I seldom hear anyone talking about it. If you like Italian film, it’s a must; it’s full of references, visual and otherwise, to other Italian films.

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        1. I am just leaving school now to pick it up at our library; so excited to view it! I’ll write my thoughts, even though I am not by any means a film critic (!) and perhaps we can talk about it that way. I’m really looking forward to seeing it, and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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  6. After reading the Ferrante trilogy last year I’m keen to read more Italian contemporary fiction. This sounds good, thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Yes, I am keen to read more myself. In fact, while waiting for the longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to be revealed in a few weeks, I’ve been reading as much Italian literature as I can find. Hopefully, I can get to two more before beginning the longlist. You can’t go wrong with either of the two I’ve reviewed lately.

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  7. I’m glad to see that you liked the book. Thank you for the link to my review, too, by the way. I’ve not found my by Ammaniti in my bookstores, but if I do, I’ll read it. I thought this one was terrific.

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    1. What is it about books in translation being so hard to find in the States?! Do Americans only read Stephen King and Nora Roberts? Don’t mean to sound like a snob, just a frustrated reader. I have one more Ammaniti on my shelf, but it will be due back at the library soon. It is entitled Me and You, hopefully I can get to it soon. Glad to link to your posts any day!

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  8. A friend of mine has been trying to get me to read this for a while now, but your review has actually pushed me to get it.

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    1. Ryan, I’m so glad that you’re further encouraged to read this. By the way, I tried to visit your blog, but I can’t find out what it is. If you leave me a link, I’d like to come over and comment.

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