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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 3 March 2010
Cristiano's life with his father may not be the best, but he's not prepared to give it up. At thirteen, he knows he's leaving school to work with his father, and all that's important is keeping his social worker happy so that he doesn't get taken away. Cristiano's father, Rino, and his two friends Quattro Formaggi and Danilo Aprea are not as happy with their lives, especially when their manual labor jobs are given over to foreign workers. So Danilo decides to launch the perfect crime, and on one stormy night, the men attempt to put the plan into action. None of them foresee the consequences.

At first, I will admit that I wasn't as drawn into this book as I was with I'm Not Scared. At one point Cristiano writes an essay about how Hitler was good and how foreigners are bad, and I wasn't sure at all I was going to like this book. That, however, soon ended, and about halfway through the crime was attempted, and then I couldn't put this book down. What happened after that was completely unpredictable and totally gripping, and I had to read on to see what happened.

Despite Cristiano's and Rino's attitudes, too, I could see the bitterness that drove them. They're not educated enough to understand why certain things are wrong, so even though I didn't always like them or agree with them at all, at least I knew where they were coming from and how they came to have the wrong ideas. I could blame the system, rather than the people, for their ignorant and terrifying attitudes. And the father-son relationship was incredibly heartwarming and realistic. They don't always know what they're doing or why they're doing it, but they really love each other in the midst of all their hardships.

Really, this book is all about the failure of "the system". Hardworking respectable men are unable to work because foreigners will work for less, and of course the companies don't care if they have to lay off the men they've employed for 20 years. Mentally ill people get poor care and aren't acknowledged at all, given no help despite the fact that they've become incapable of work. The social worker in the book doesn't even look at Cristiano's bedroom, and when he does, he's beyond caring. I don't think that he should have separated Cristiano from his father, although perhaps others would disagree, but the facade these two are capable of putting on for him, plus what he thinks makes a family, is almost laughable.

So, once again, Ammaniti has delivered a thriller that really causes his readers to think. His writing is crude at times - he spares no details in certain matters - and often violent, but he's talented nonetheless. I do feel that I have to warn readers that a sexual crime is attempted in this book and it made me very uncomfortable, so it may do the same to you. Regardless, though, The Crossroads is a great read, and I can definitely recommend it as an addictive, thrilling book that will keep you up all night just to finish it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2012
After reading Niccolo Ammaniti's I'm Not Scared, which was full of elegant prose, subtle characterisation and a cleverly constructed story, I was excited when I found Crossroads in my local bookshop. I even paid £10.99 for the pleasure. But I'm still questioning if it was worth it.

In the first 10 pages, I knew that this wasn't the Ammaniti book I was expecting. Straight off the bat, the violence, the gritty realism and the effing and blinding jumped off the page, in an explosive introduction to the main characters. All preconceptions were immediately dispelled. (It's always dangerous to expect a certain style of writing from an author - it often leads to disappointment.) I gradually began to enjoy the shocks and general bleakness of this cartoon like assortment of oddball characters.

The story follows a teenage boy, Cristiano Zena, who lives a squalid existence in a pre-fab house that his alcoholic, nazi loving father, Rino, built while a construction worker years before. Rino has a rag tag pair of friends, Danilo and Quattro Formaggi (because he loves that flavour of pizza) each of whom has fallen on hard times and join Rino, the aggressive and unpredictable leader, for drinking sessions and half heated attempts to get labouring work.

This is a book of interweaving stories, all connecting to this trio of adults who have a plan to ram raid a cash machine, split the loot and make better lives for themselves. In great heist-gone-wrong tradition, nothing goes as planned and everyone's lives are affected dramatically as a result.

There is a lot of fun to be had here, but I couldn't help thinking that Ammaniti was trying too hard to make his characters `quirky;' that this was written with one eye on Hollywood, thinking of the film rights with every outrageous act.

It isn't a patch on I'm Not Scared, and that's perhaps why I was so disappointed. There was also nothing here that showed the subtlety and nuance either. If I am Not Scared is a whisper, then this is a bloody great mega-phone boom. I never fully engaged with these characters- they felt like part of a graphic novel and never quite believable.

It reminded me of Tim Willocks (great writer, filmic to the max) in the sense that these books feel like the precursor to a hollywood film.

Don't get me wrong, Ammaniti has done a god job here, but with such genius as I'm Not Scared to live up to, it's really no wonder this one falls short.

Fun, but self conscious, gritty but bitty...
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on 16 December 2010
Ammaniti's latest novel builds on themes from previous novels such as "I am not afraid" and "Steal you away" - childhood caught in the web of adult crime, social exclusion and romantic folly.
"The Crossroads" starts on a low key, with a slightly over-long opening section setting the story-base and outlining the cast of characters. But once the story gets going in the storm, there's no let-up and the plot evolves with an inevitability and pace that doesn't let you go.
Christiano is caught up in the morass of stupidity and greed which the adults around him have created and the story reveals the tragedy of his consequent life in painful detail. His anger and hurt are tellingly detailed, and capture the reader with their pathos.
But it is with the character of Quattro Formaggio that Ammaniti has made most successful advances: a cruel, crazed man damaged and indeed broken by life. The description of his descent into madness is really superb.
If you like Ammaniti's other work you'll like this too: the combination of comic tragedy and thriller is thoroughly gripping once again, and with the greater length comes better development of plot and character.
It's one of those books you put down with regret, like when a good friend leaves: great stuff!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 7 November 2010
13 year old Cristiano lives with his drunken father, Rino, in a shabby house, monitored by social services and brought up primarily by his father's reprobate friends. His life is spent between fending for himself and looking after his dad.

He is a tough kid, street wise and rough, but he idolises his father and despite all his obvious faults wants to stay living with him.

When Rino and his friends, Danilo and the mentally ill Quattro Formaggi formulate a plan to rob a bank Cristiano sees a way out of their poverty and misery. Divided into 3 sections, the book tells the story of 'before', 'the night' and 'after' the robbery.

Predictably the robbery doesn't go as planned and Cristiano is forced to grow up very quickly and deal with the fall out.

Ammaniti has created a large cast of characters, all believable and all with complicated interlocking back stories. They are convincing and intricately drawn, particularly Quattro Formaggi.

He has created a convincing and twisted plot.

He has created a credible relationship between father and son.

What he hasn't done though, is create any characters that you can care about, apart from to a small degree Cristiano. To a man they are flawed to the point of dislike. And it is hard to care about what is happening to someone when you find them deeply unpleasant.

Where the novel falls down for me though is the number of switching point of views. Towards the end as the plot speeds up so too do the POV changes, becoming relentless and breathless, giving you little chance to get into anyone's head before snatching you off into someone else's. Combine this with the lack of characters that you can care about and the overall sense is one of distance and lack of involvement.

So, good plotting, clever structure, exciting twists, but ultimately not a book I can care about.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2009
Recently I have been trying out some Italian writers (Veronesi, Tabucchi, Carofiglio), and I was quite impressed. This novel by the popular Nicolo Ammaniti isn't my cup of tea though.

The main character is Christiano, who is thirteen and lives with his father. His father is out of work, overly agressive and drinks too much. Christiano has a crush on one of the popular girls at school. He does not seem have any friends, except fot the friends of this father's. One is an alcoholic who was left by his wife, but hopes to get her back by becoming rich. He wants to do this by robbing a bank, and he has convinced his two friends to do the job together. The second friend of Christiano's is a brain-damaged man, who can't get in contact with women and is sexually frustrated. The book ends in a climax where things go very wrong, especially for the two friends of Christiano's father.

Although Ammaniti is a skilled story teller, but I didn't get to like the main characters much and the turn of events didn't help either.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2009
If I could sum up Niccolo Ammaniti's latest novel in one word it would simply be ENGROSSING! From its shocking opening (which instantly imbues the reader with a firm notion of the wayward characteristics of two of the principle characters), to the flick of the final page, I found myself riveted by The Crossroads as it took me on a veritable `roller-coaster ride' where the plot twists and turns to almost vomit inducing levels.

It's perhaps appropriate that I mention `vomit' because The Crossroads is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Although its integral to the story (something which becomes apparent as reading progresses), the novel is gratuitously violent and shockingly sexual at times, but the powerful pace of the action, coupled with the quality of Ammaniti's prose (and Johnathan Hunt's flawless translation) makes this novel truly all-absorbing and, if you can grimace through those nasty bits, it's utterly compelling.

So what's The Crossroads all about then? Well firstly I'd better tell you that this is third novel published by Niccolo Ammaniti, and it comes on the back of his highly venerated second novel, I'm Not Scared. Although brand-new in its English translation, The Crossroads has been in publication in the vernacular since 2006, and was awarded the prestigious Premio Strega Prize in Italy in 2007. Its plot at a fundamental level is simplistic - it follows the story of a group of friends who are plotting to rob a local bank, but it's not long before the basic plot of The Crossroads branches out and becomes more complex, and in some quite remarkable and unpredictable ways.

If you've read either of his previous novels (Steal You Away or the afore-mentioned I'm Not Scared) you'll know that Niccolo Ammaniti does characters well, really well - especially pubescent ones who are forced to put aside their childhood and deal with very adult situations - and The Crossroads is no different. The chief protagonist is Cristiano Zena, a thirteen year old boy who lives alone with his violent-tempered, drunken father Rino, and the relationship between father and son can be seen as the primary `plot driver' in The Crossroads. Ammaniti has developed these two characters incredibly well and you may, like me, find yourself building a strong feeling of empathy for both of them as the novel unfolds. Cristiano and Rino aren't the only ones superbly characterised in The Crossroads, and I think I can state without fear of contradiction that almost every character in this novel is exceptionally well realised, to such a level where they're sure to stay in the mind of the reader for a long time to come (especially Quattro Formaggi and Danilo Aprea). Only one author has managed to create characters as memorable as that for me so far, and that's the great John Steinbeck, so take from that what you will, although it's an obvious compliment.

Another triumph I found with The Crossroads is the way that the author has utilised `perspective' throughout the novel. He often relates incidents by switching to the perspective of different characters, and this has the effect of bringing both a high pace and excitement to the story which borders on `breakneck', and leaves you clinging to the `handrail' of that proverbial roller-coaster I mentioned at the start. Factor in Ammaniti's exceptional use of `inner dialogue' for his characters and you have a novel that leaves you pretty much gasping at the end.

So all-in-all I would consider The Crossroads to be an absolute work of triumph. As I've said, its level of violence and sexual content does makes it inappropriate for some readers (especially those under the age of 18), but for those not easily offended The Crossroads an absolute must-read; one that you will remember for a long time to come.
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on 31 July 2014
Far too slow to get going for me
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2009
I suppose the fact that the book jacket of this novel proudly boasts that it won the Primo Strega, 'Italy's equivalent to the Booker', is helpful in letting us know that such pointless literary prizes can go to truly awful books throughout Europe and not just here. Ammaniti's novel has some flashes of thoughtful writing and a nice chase scene halfway through, but for the most part is bloated, pretentious and conservative. Held together with clichés and lame attempts to shock, you are asked to follow the antics of some racist thugs in a tone that flits between sympathy and snobbish loathing. Add to this are continual references to 'God' and the dismaying sense that, under the nihilistic posturing, Ammaniti is probably a believer who thinks a 'higher power' will sort out his protagonists. With its sketchy characters (they watch daytime TV, therefore they are stupid) and risibly sentimental ending this is another 'edgy' novel that is actually as complacent as any middlebrow novel out there.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2010
A breath of fresh air. Niccolo Ammaniti is an amazing storyteller who reels you in and keeps your attention throughout this pacey story. His characters are interesting and you quickly bond with them and their many imperfections. I loved the ending which was everything I had hoped it would be.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2009
I probably shouldn't be reviewing this book. I disliked it so much that I did not get more than halfway through. But I felt I should warn those who enjoyed (as I certainly did) his two early novels and admired their sensitivity, delicacy and subtlety that this is very different. I don't mind unpleasant but poorly written, crudely characterised, exaggerated and wholly unbelievable - and bloated! - is more than I can cope with. "A writer of rigorous imagination and moral subtlety" - the TLS is quoted on the back cover. Not much sign of either of those here, I thought.

Judging by the other reviews here I may be in a minority but, as you can tell, I loathed what I read of it.
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