The Past Is a Foreign Country: A Thriller
by Gianrico Carofiglio
Cover Artist: Amateur Philosophers by Jack Vettriano 1992.
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312383961
Date: 20 July 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
During the late eighties, Giorgio Cipriani is a twenty-two-year-old law student in Bari, Italy. He develops an unlikely friendship with the ne'er-do-well Francesco Carducci who is a philosophy major. The suave, handsome Francesco quickly seduces Giorgio into a glamorous, sensual life of crime. Together, they play poker and swindle their opponents out of small fortunes. Eventually, Giorgio forsakes law school and his obsession with Francesco causes him to descend into the depraved depths of cocaine trafficking and sexual perversion. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Chiti, the head of a task force, is trying to identify a serial rapist who is terrorizing Bari.
With friends like Francesco, who needs enemies? Someone should've taught Giorgio to be more careful in choosing his friends. Indeed, friendship, specifically how far we will go to protect our friends, seems to be a prevalent theme throughout Gianrico Carofiglio’s beautifully written psychological crime drama, The Past Is A Foreign Country. Most of the novel is told in the first person from Giorgio's point of view. As a child, he loved to write; currently, he is writing about events taking place many years in the past. Once he read a novel titled The Foreign Student; on the page before its prologue was the following quotation:
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”Giorgio's life was much different during that turbulent year when he was friends with Francesco.
Francesco Carducci is a human chameleon with a high IQ. He can blend into any type of environment; he is able to easily make friends with people from all walks of life. With his incredibly handsome looks, he can seduce practically any woman. Happiness, however, eludes him. Having been raised poor in a broken home, he feels that he never has enough money. Giorgio is probably the first true friend he has ever trusted, which is evidenced by his willingness to teach him his card tricks. Soon Giorgio is nearly as good a card shark as Francesco.
Giorgio Cipriani knows how to fight and is a brave man. Though not wealthy, he was raised in an upper middle class family. Giorgio respects the laws; the moral values instilled in him prevents him from becoming another Francesco. The reader might consider Giorgio and Francesco as opposites. I believe that Giorgio, yearning for a break from his highly structured, regimented life, envied and craved Francesco's glamorously risqué lifestyle. I was sometimes left wondering if Francesco was lonely for true friendship or merely manipulating Giorgio, using him as a pawn for his future plans of crime.
Some of the novel is told from the viewpoint of Lieutenant Giorgio Chiti of the Carabinieri (an Italian military corps with police duties). He had a tragic childhood that is similar to that of Francesco. However, Lieutenant Chiti learned to overcome the nightmares of his past. A great leader like Francesco, he commands a task force to identify and locate the phantom rapist. He is also a talented artist. From a description provided by a victim's friend, he is able to sketch a portrait of a suspect. Both Giorgio Cipriani and Lieutenant Giorgio Chiti are involved with law, having followed in the footsteps of their respective fathers.
Bari, Southern Italy, with its beautiful beaches, cafes, and villas, provides a wonderful setting for The Past Is A Foreign Country. Located at the heel of the boot-shaped country, this port city is rich with history. Besides having a flourishing fishing industry, its agricultural industry includes cherries, tomatoes, artichokes, grapes, and table wine.
The Past Is A Foreign Country was originally written in Italian by Gianrico Carofiglio, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor based in Bari. Having sold over 400,000 copies worldwide, it has been translated into numerous languages. Howard Cutis has done a superb job of translating this psychological crime drama into English. I would never have known that it was a translation. I was confused only once when the point of view changed from Giorgio Cipriani to Giorgio Chiti and I had forgotten that the lieutenant had the same first name as the law student.
The Past Is A Foreign Country proves that your friends and associates can get you into serious trouble. Bad choices that seem innocent at first can cause a chain reaction of events that can quickly become deadly. You can never return to the past and amend the damage that has been done.
The Past Is A Foreign Country is highly recommended reading for those who love good crime drama with exotic locales. Other novels that involve twisted friendships that lead to disastrous consequences are David J. Schow’s Internecine, Neil Cross’ Burial, Wallace Stroby’s Gone 'til November and Daniel Judson’s The Violet Hour.