The internationally best-selling novel originally published as Malavita, now a major motion picture: The Family starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Luc Besson and produced by Martin Scorsese.
The Blakes are newcomers to a small town in Normandy. Fred is a historian researching the Allied landings, Maggie enjoys charity work, and their kids are looking forward to meeting other teenagers at the local lycee. Or so it seems.
In fact, Fred is really Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-goodfella turned stool pigeon who's been relocated from New Jersey to France by the FBI's witness protection program. He's got a two-million-dollar bounty on his head, but he and his family can't help attracting attention (imagine the Sopranos in Normandy). And when imprisoned mobster Don Mimino gets wind of their location, it's Mafia mayhem à la Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper - or like The Godfather as if written by Carl Hiaasen. Because while you can take the man out of the Mafia, you can't take the Mafia out of the man.
Clearly I had never heard of Tonino Benacquista before. I have, however, become something of a student of Edoardo Balerini. I would be the president of his fan club, were he to have one. The man has engaged and entertained me in a way which beggars description. This book is the story of an Italian gangster and his family, who go into the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) after he testifies against his former colleagues. The family ends up in a small town in Normandy, the name of which I swear to you sounds something like Schlong-sur-Mer. The gangster takes the name of Fred Baker, and tries to convince an entire town bristling with French gossips that he is a writer, engaged in some magnum opus mysterioso. His wife and chldren are dragged most unhappily into this fiasco. It is torture for them to keep the lie going, but of course it is essential that they pull it off, as unspeakable deaths await them if they fail. Mr. Baker's real name is Giovanni Menzano, I believe. The wife and kids have to invent names and full identities for themselves. They have one so-called friend, who is their supervisor in the WITSEC program, a man named Tom Quintiliani. (Please forgive me if I am messing up these names: it is very hard to memorize names when you are laughing out loud at the story, and at the exquisite predicament this family is in.)
Edoardo Balerini has now reached a pinnacle (in my mind) which no other living narrator has ever come close to. It's not just that he's Italian; you can hear the pronunciation of his own name sound more Italian with each book. Since the book is set in France, Mr. Balerini must master a large variety of French accents and individual speech proclivities. You just cannot imagine how funny this is until you hear it. It is easy for Americans to make fun of the French, for reasons which have little to do with this book in particular (they are, though, so ENTIRELY full of themselves): please stop me now before I become quite tasteless. The plot ambles around in a good-natured sort of way. I actually got lost, as I was reading about four other books at the same time, and I discovered that it was a complete pleasure to start this book from the very beginning again. I realized that some of the jokes had just filtered through my cortex without being stored in memory (a fancy and preposterous way of saying that I forgot them), and so each was funny anew. This one is a winner. I hope Mr. Benacquisto has more up his sleeve. From the sounds of Mr. Balerini's voices I would guess him to be in his forties: how very, very lucky for us.
39 of 43 people found this review helpful
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I enjoyed this book, but mostly because of the narration. Eduardo Ballerini is truly a gifted talent. The story is okay. I found Fred, the male character, hard to tolerate with all his mafia-laden ways and egotistical viewpoint of the world. The family as a whole is hard to develop feelings for, although the mother, Olivia, seems the most human. I don't know how realistically this story portrays life in the witness protection program, or if it even was meant to, but I probably would not have finished the book if I were reading it.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Benacquista can write! This is a well written story that introduces us to the "Blake" family living in Normandy, France. The Blakes are ordinary in every sense but one - they are in the witness protection program because Fred Blake was a Mafioso king pin who ratted out his peers and now must hide because the entire Cosa Nostra is looking for him.
The book seems like it is in three parts. Part one introduces us to each of the four Blakes and the FBI agents who must watch them. This section is interesting and funny as we get to know the characters and learn what life is like in France for a bunch of Newark, NJ, transplants. The Blake children, in particular, are well developed, quirky, and interesting. Part two is a closer look at life in the Cosa Nostra and the life that Fred lived before he testified. This part might be interesting to you if you like stories about the Mafia. The third part looks at the disintegration of the Blake family and how the past catches up with them. Considering how well developed and plausible everything had been before this section, it is very disappointing to have an ending that is not as carefully developed and that never has a credible ring.
Ballerini is an outstanding narrator. This is the second book I have listened to that he narrated (cf: The Beautiful Ruins). He is one of the best and reason alone to listen to this book.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
It was nice to hear Edoardo Ballerini narrate again after doing such a terrific job on Beautiful Ruins. He really gets a chance to stretch his chops on this one with all the Italian and French accents, and he's simply remarkable. The story's pretty darn good, too! Funny, exciting and smart. I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I hope the movie does it justice.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I just listened for the second time this year (never done before, since I hate reruns), and yes, it's just as much fun as before. Actually, the world-traveling piece of litter was even more amusing on the second listen. This is really such a clever story.
I should mention that some of the expressions are more British than USA: boot for car trunk? garden vs. front or back yard; "straightaway" for "asap" or like, "right now." Quite a lot of that sort of thing, so if you're not accustomed the the language of British or UK-influenced literature, it might be a bit confusing at times. It wouldn't be so inappropriate in background, but even the American characters use the expressions in their dialog, which makes the story less realistic. But, then, it's supposed to be a memoir pretending to be fiction, so maybe realism isn't to be expected.
I've criticized Edoardo Ballerini's reading of other books, but somehow his somber style worked perfectly in this, and the accents of all the different languages were very well done. This book gave him a chance to show his true talent. I just purchased Beautiful Ruins based on his reading of this book, since I thought that might also provide a way to showcase his abilities. We'll see.
And the dog lived, and even got some of it's own back. I can't tell you how many otherwise good books have been ruined for me by the things that have happened to animals in them. Humans will never become the superior beings some think they are until they learn to at least confine their nastiness to our own species. Kudos, Malavita!
9 of 12 people found this review helpful
Funny? Not in my opinion; I'd say Boring! This is a poorly written book with annoying unlikable characters in a slow moving pointless plot. What more can I say? A story about a made man who testifies and is in witness protection should at least be interesting, but I couldn't wait for this book to end. Sorry but not good.
6 of 9 people found this review helpful
For a light crime caper in which the bodies pile up along with the laughs, "Malavita" has everything. Wow to Edoardo Ballerini. Every sentence he speaks is a pleasure. The plot hums right along, and everyone gets a chance to be somebody, including the dog, who is both sinned against and, gratifyingly, sinning.
Personally, I wish the writer could have envisioned more for the daughter other than her constant absorption in her own beauty. The son gets all the complexity, which grates.
Other than that, love this story.
4 of 9 people found this review helpful