Owen's Reviews > Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari
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's review
Apr 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: translated, italian, ya

Baron Lamberto, 93, lives on an island in the middle of a lake, where he monitors his 24 banks while his butler Anselmo monitors his 24 illnesses. But when an Egyptian fakir's anti-aging advice turns out to actually work, the Baron's unexpected youth and vigor interfere with people's plans to get their hands on his money—the people being his nephew Ottavio, and a group of 24 terrorists who invade the island and take the Baron hostage.

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto is an old-fashioned fable told with modern trimmings, which makes it a little problematic in English. The details Rodari chooses to illuminate the story (the terrorists and their methods, the habits of the lakeside village, the class markers of the various characters) are all specific to Italy in the mid-'70s. If the setting were more obviously distant in space or time, or entirely invented, we could write it off as make-believe, but as it is it's close enough to the U.S. in 2012 that the American reader stumbles over what doesn't quite fit. This isn't Rodari's fault, of course, nor is it a problem with the translation; if anywhere, it's in the idea of publishing a translation that the mistake lies.

Rodari is great and deserves to be read, but this may be one of those cases where translating the work out of its original context weakens it too much. Unfortunately, I think that might apply to most of Rodari's work; this book is actually his most-developed narrative and thus the one most likely to be able to stand on its own, and yet even it wobbles. Instead, everyone should just learn Italian, and study contemporary Italian history and society too. Then you'd get all of Rodari's jokes.
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