Rome-based writer Amara Lakhous had no luggage when he arrived in Italy from Northern Africa fifteen years ago.
At the time, his native Algeria was imploding into civil war and he was forced into exile. The only thing the young author carried with him was the final draft of his first novel. "It was my real passport", he told ANSA of the manuscript that would launch his career.
Today, the 40-year-old Lakhous is considered nothing short of a literary sensation in Italy.
In a country that has difficulties adapting to its growing multicultural society, his lyrical yet satirical stories revolving around immigration offer readers food for thought and raise important questions about identity. His third book, which he describes as "a real comedy born out of a great frustration", has just been published to rave reviews.
In chapter-long monologues sprinkled with engaging scenes, Lakhous paints essentially sad pictures of everyday life in Rome's Arab-Muslim community, an immigrant reality that he experienced first-hand for over a decade. His latest effort is set to repeat the great success of its predecessor, 'Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio', a black comedy populated by a melting pot of characters living in a run-down palazzo in Piazza Vittorio, Rome's most multiethnic neighbourhood.
Like his fellow writers, Lakhous invites Italian readers, often inhibited by racial stereotypes, to look at today's world around them through the eyes of an immigrant in their country. "It's like being a film director who arrives from the outside and sets up his camera to shoot the scene; he decides what to show and how to show it, and ultimately he shows reality", said the author. Words like "integration" or "assimilation" hardly find their way into Lakhous' books.
For the award-winning novelist and anthropologist they are double-edged swords as they presume that there is a correct way to integrate, when the real question is: "What is 'Italian'? In which Italy does a foreigner have to integrate?" Paradoxically, it's not only the immigrants', but also the Italians' identity that is at stake, he said.