Abdel Nasser is “the Italian”, so nicknamed for his good looks. We first encounter him at his father’s funeral, when, in a burst of sudden, frenzied aggression he assaults the neighbourhood’s Imam.
The narrative that follows is an attempt to uncover the motivations behind the attack. It reconstructs Abdel’s troubled history, from childhood through his time as leader of the left-wing student movement, a movement whose dream of freedom and revolution will soon be caught and crushed between the growth of Islamism and the tyranny of the Tunisian state. Abdel’s own hopes will also come to nothing, his love story with the brilliant Zeina inevitably destined to fail, victim of rigidly sexist, ruthlessly corrupt societal norms. Ever more disillusioned, Abdel surrenders to compromise. He takes a job as a journalist with a state-controlled newspaper, where his independence will be taken away and censorship demand a humiliating toll, eventually causing his childhood demons to be unleashed.
Winner of the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Italian points emblematically to the failure of the Arab Spring, revealing mechanism of control and repression, and the fragility of human beings.
Shukri Mabkhout was born in Tunis in 1962. He is head of the Manouba University, and on the editorial board of several journals. He is the author of several works of literary criticism, this is his first novel.