I should be wiser. Having a reading queue the length of a mid-sized transatlantic and being easily captured by a book, I should avoid bookstores like hell. This time I am delighted not to be so wise because otherwise I wouldn’t have stumbled in Elianto by Stefano Benni and I would have lost this good reading for God knows how much time yet. Usually, a book hooks me through the back cover lines (or the inside cover leaflet in case of a hardback). This time I opened the book and found a strange, hand-drawn map covering two pages. Wow seems something like “Lord of the Rings”! Then I turned to the back cover but I was already hooked and I already knew in my heart that soon some money would have left my wallet.

Benni always satisfied my reading taste and this time was even better. The story of Elianto is so poetic, evocative, and dramatic that the fact that is so well told is just its natural consequence.

The story takes place in a country named Tristalia (in English could sound like “Sadtaly”). The country is run by a computer and every year twenty presidential candidates challenge themselves in a sort of living (well ‘deadly’ could be more appropriate) reality show, the one who survives wins and can rule the country for a year.

Every few years sorts of tournament games are held to recognize the autonomy of counties. These games (as with everything else) are cheated to create the best outcomes for better ruling the country.

Moreover every day every family is called to vote in the daily poll. If they guess the majority of the answers they get electricity, water, TV, and warming, otherwise they are excluded for the day from the usual supply.

This is not so different from the background of other books by the same writer, where the Italian sociopolitical situation is exaggerated and distorted with a humorous, but chilling effect.

Elianto is a young teenager badly ill. He is in a hospital for terminal diseases. He is the only boy who has defeated the pluri-awarded Baby Esatto the current government champion for the next autonomy games.

Elianto is dying, but his friends want to save him. So wants the Devil, yes the Evil One (but no more evil than the worst human), because doing evilness in Tristalia is so widespread that there is no longer an intriguing challenge to tempt humans from that country.

A great warrior is sent after another yet greater warrior to defeat the government champion of Evil Fight, Rollo Napalm.

Elianto’s friends, three devils, and the cloud warrior Fuku with two bonsai-sized yogis will go, every group its way, searching for what they consider the remedy. Meanwhile, Elianto will be endangered by one of the doctors who run the hospital under Baby Esatto’s influence.

There are many strong points in the book: there are many unforgettable characters so well defined into their roles. Hard to read the death personification (a Flamenco dancer) without feeling anything. The background is satiric and frightening. The idea of parallel universes is not new per se, but it is approached freshly. A map is needed to travel from one universe to another. This map is either cast by a full moon through an old tree onto a wall in Elianto’s room or found on the back of an eel can (and the eel inside is not only alive but forecasts the future). Or it is found on a micro piece of paper obtained by processing a single grain of rice. Or it can be found tattooed on the butt of a devil.
Well, until now, if you have to read just one book by Benni, read this. If in doubt with another writer, read this. Highly recommended.

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