Margherita Dolce Vita Paperback – Nov 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Margherita Dolce Vita, the eccentric 14-year-old heroine of Benni's Italian bestseller, has a "fusilli farm" of blonde curls and lives at the "colorless and necessary outskirts of town" with her quirky family. Like her collector-of-aged-junk father, Margherita prefers the magic and mystery of the past to the digital flash of contemporary youth. So when the Del Benes family suddenly arrives next door in a blaze of gaudy gadgets, it jars her sensibilities, especially after it seems as though Margherita's parents and older brother have blindly fallen for the Del Beneses' "plasma megascreen" and other trappings. Resolving to break their spell, Margherita enlists her science-genius little brother, Heraclitus; her gentle and erratic grandfather Socrates; and her loyal, narcoleptic dog Sleepy, and wages war. That Margherita's is an allegorical war for modern, suburbanizing Italy's soul—indeed for la dolce vita—won't be lost on U.S. readers: Benni is sly and spiky in his satire (Margherita's faded-beauty mother smokes "Virtuals") and gives Margherita a voice that is sophisticated and funny ("I embraced my teddy bear Pontius in an unobtrusively erotic manner"). Margherita carries one along through this winning romp with nary a false note. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* Benni is renowned in his native Italy as a shrewd and entertaining satirist. His inventive style must be daunting for translators, but Shugaar's English rendering is dazzling. Margherita Dolce Vita is the 14-year-old narrator's nickname, and the allusion to Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) hints at the uncanny chaos and angst Margherita so ably and drolly chronicles. She is happiest frolicking with her dog in the meadow surrounding her family's modest house, where her father repairs old bicycles, her mother watches her soap opera, one brother obsesses over soccer while the other plays mad scientist, and her grandfather ingests toxins in the hope of becoming immune to pollution. It's a sweet life, all right, until a giant black cube is erected next door, the forbidding high-tech mansion of a wealthy family up to no good. Soon Margherita's once frugal and content parents are caught up in their neighbors' passion for excess and sinister clandestine activities, while the once fecund meadow is poisoned with pesticides. What's an observant, outspoken, and nature-loving girl to do? Benni's seriocomic vision of the drastic consequences of unchecked consumerism, environmental decimation, and End Times mania is at once fantastic and believable, delightful and chilling. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The ironically-named Del Bene family, who built the Cube ("like Scrooge McDuck's money vault"), quickly begins to absorb Margherita's parents and the rest of the neighborhood within their aggressively materialistic orbit. Soon the meadow is sprayed to kill mosquitoes, a gypsy encampment is "encouraged" to depart, and abandoned cars are removed. The Del Benes appreciate and employ the subtle briberies needed to bend each person to their will, and Margherita begins to think they have supernatural powers, as they become increasingly powerful in the lives of Margherita's family. When they begin to encroach upon the Great Meadow, however, the ghostly Dust Girl plots an unforgettable revenge. The conflicts develop more dramatically, and a dark, bang-up conclusion results.
Margherita's spot-on, mordant observations about her world are leavened by her hilariously unique images, coined words, puns, and word play, which keep the novel from becoming didactic. She describes her mother as looking like a "used tea bag." She notes that during a kiss seen on the new giant-screen TV, "the dueling tongues look like a pair of dueling meatloaves." Margherita's father has dealt with his growing bald spot by "recruiting about two thousand hairs that used to live near his left ear and force-marched them over to...the right hemisphere."
The first of Italian author Stefano Benni's novels to be translated into English, Margherita Dolce Vita deals with important social and environmental issues--the destruction of forests and natural habitats, consumerism, the growth of cults, the power of advertising, and the ostracism of "outsiders"--but his use of magic realism keeps the tone light--at least until the conclusion. The author concentrates on fast-paced story-telling, rather than moralizing, creating characters who themselves are either story-tellers or story-lovers. Fun to read, the narrative offers new ways of thinking about contemporary problems without becoming ponderous. While some readers may find the observations and satire a bit obvious, many others will be so captivated by Margherita that they will empathize with her dark assessment of life: "The fairy-tale has gone all wrong: the killers have become masters of the earth." n Mary Whipple
Yes, you will laugh out loud. Yes, there is a whole spectrum of enjoyment, from the very low comedy of Sleepy's revenge to a favorite line from Dante quoted tongue-in-cheek. The narrator and central character is cheeky, fantastical, funny and keeps her eyes open in a sharp pre-materialistic Mediterranean way. The book is truly brilliant. I remain awestruck by Sugaar's translation.
Do I dare read another book by Benni? Could anything be better? Okay, I'm going to buy Timeskipper by the same author (and translator) now.