Reading Reports

Giuseppe Catozzella
Don’t tell me you’re afraid

Report by Fabio Gambaro

Fabio Gambaro is a Paris-based essayist and a cultural correspondent for important Italian and French newspapers and magazines (“La Repubblica”, “l’Espresso”, etc.). He has translated Camilleri, De Luca, Jaeggy and others...

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The drama of immigration seen from the point of view of those seeking to leave behind a world of suffering.

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In Brief
Giuseppe Catozzella tells the true story in the form of a novel of Samia Yusuf Omar, a young Somali athlete who three years after participating in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, drowns off the coast of Sicily in an attempt to reach Europe to train for the London Olympics of 2012. The novel begins back in the late nineties, with the child Samia running through the streets of Mogadishu, a city torn apart by civil war and controlled by the fundamentalist militias of Al Shabab. Despite the dangers, prohibition and frustrations, after taking part in various competitions and qualifying at 17 for an Olympic event Samia manages to establish herself as the fastest girl in Somalia. Gradually, Samia’s success becomes a symbol of freedom for Muslim women. Success, however, will not prove enough to save her. The violence that makes Mogadishu unbearable to live in, the murder of her father by fundamentalists, betrayal by her dearest friend and the impossibility to exercise freely force her to flee the country. The young athlete begins a long journey of despair and suffering , hunger and thirst, abuse and loneliness at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers and corrupt police. After crossing the Sudan and Libya, she arrives in Tripoli where she attempts to cross by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Her dreams end in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where Samia loses her life just when she had thought salvation was at hand.

An exceptional and deeply moving character, Samia is the type that never gives up. From early childhood when she starts running from the bombs until her last moments before drowning, she is convinced she will be able to take part in the London Olympics. The dream is the driving force of her life and it gives her the strength to face any difficulty and to overcome all obstacles. She is accompanied in her adventure by some secondary convincing and well-drawn characters, starting with Ali, the childhood friend who growing up, betrays her. And her much-loved father, who has taught her “not to be afraid.”

Language and Style
Telling the story through Samia’s eyes, Catozzella finds the right rhythm and tone to express the emotions of the protagonist, her gentleness and determination, and her childlike naivety that gradually turns to the shock of realization. Thanks to the force of Catozzella’s writing, simple but always effective and precise, Samia’s dreams and disappointments, her anger and fears, and inexhaustible desire for freedom are vividly shared by the reader. The realism of the descriptions and emotions allow Don’t tell me you’re afraid to recount the tragic odyssey of a young athlete, with great intensity and involvement.

In My Opinion – Why this Work Merits a Translation
The story of Samia has the ingredients of a contemporary epic. A personal story becomes a universal adventure told with strength and sensitivity: the drama of immigration seen from the point of view of those seeking to leave behind a world of suffering and deprivation. In a work wholly devoid of simplism, the Milanese novelist successfully voices the anger and suffering of those willing to risk everything for a better life. And while Don’t tell me you’re afraid forces the reader to reflect on the injustice of the world, Samia’s overriding desire to live becomes the symbol of those who are willing to do anything in pursuit of their dream. In short, a powerful, heartrending novel.

Critical Commentary
Catozzella comes up trumps with this simple and sincere novel our children and grandchildren should read for a better understanding of the times in which we live, and our own adult cowardice

Goffredo Fofi, Internazionale

A novel able to tell the greatest epic of our time

Erri De Luca

About the Author
Born in Milan in 1975, he studied philosophy and has contributed to various newspapers. After a long period spent in Australia, he returned to Milan where he now works for a publishing company. He has published two collections of short stories, The Life Cycle of Fish (2011) and Fuego (2012) , as well as the novels Explants (2008) and Hive (2011), a novel about the Mafia in Milan which has been adapted for television and four different plays.

16 June 2014

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