The Fugitive by Massimo Carlotto

“To go back, perhaps, was the only way of settling accounts with the past.”

In 1976, Massimo Carlotto was nineteen years old and a member of Lotta Continua when he was charged with the murder of a 26-year-old university student. After three trials, he was acquitted thanks to “insufficient evidence,” but then the acquittal was overturned and he was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. At that point, Carlotto became a fugitive from ‘Justice,’ and he decided:

Paris was the only place I could go. It has long been a destination for political exiles, and generation after generation of refugees have created a full-fledged culture of solidarity for those forced to flee their homelands.

Against the advice of friends, Carlotto eventually moved on to Mexico–thanks mainly to reading Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Carlotto noted that Serge “finally made his way to the land of the unfinished revolution” and “fascinated by the descriptions of the country” Carlotto makes the fatal error of hiding out in Mexico. Here, he’s betrayed by a money-hungry lawyer who sells him out to the Federales, and somehow or another, Carlotto’s involvement with Lotta Continua mutates to involvement with the Red Brigades. Since this was a few years after the Red Brigades’ kidnapping and murder of Italian politician, Aldo Moro, Carlotto was a big catch for the Mexican police. At Calle de Soto, “the notorious headquarters of the Mexican political police” Carlotto is beaten, tortured and a witness to the death of a mysterious cellmate.

A great deal of The Fugitive is spent on describing life on the run, and Carlotto notes that fatal “decisions ripened in exile” sometimes proved to be the undoing of many fugitives. He describes various fugitive communities and notes several “categories of fugitives” and identifies himself as a:

classic accidental fugitive, someone who never expected to have problems with the law, who never thought that he would need to “invent” an escape from his own country as the one way to save his life, his freedom, and his personal dignity. The defining characteristic of an accidental fugitive is a lack of resources and protection. An accidental fugitive has absolutely no idea how to live on the run.

Over time, Carlotto learns to read the safety signals within his community and assumes a variety of disguises based on perceived stereotypes. These characters “served only as a camouflage,” and Carlotto describes how he assumes various disguises in order to move, fairly smoothly and uneventfully, through Parisian society. In one passage, he describes how he:

saw proof on a daily basis that my ‘mask’ was working perfectly. Whenever I boarded a bus or stepped onto the Metro…I was immediately drawn by my supposed social counterparts into a web of silent expressions of shared disapproval–signaled by complicit glances and tiny, imperceptible headshakes–for the homeless gypsies, or street artists whose mere existence constitute an annoyance to the respectable citizens of the city.

Along the way, Carlotto meets many people, including the son of Victor Serge, Vlady, one of the “world’s leading practitioners of Trotskyite iconography.” Carlotto also discusses protests against the anarchist Salvador Puig Antich “who was garroted in the final years of Franco’s dictatorship.” And he also recalls his friendship with Jorge Saball Astaburuaga–the son of Catalonian anarchists “who fled Spain after Franco’s victory.” Jorge or ‘Lolo’ grew up in Chile and became an activist in the MAPU (United Popular Action Movement–Movimiento de Accion Popular Unitario). Fleeing from Pinochet’s regime, in exile in Paris, Lolo abandons the MAPU and returns to his anarchist roots, and became one of the founders of the Comite International Justice Pour Massimo Carlotto.

Carlotto is eventually returned to the Italy where he faces more trials and the “longest legal proceeding in Italian history” before he was able to completely clear his name. Today he is seen as one of Italy’s foremost writers of crime fiction. He notes:

this is a strange country we live in. Veterans of Gladio–Italy’s secret, subversive, NATO sponsored, post WWII, anti-Communist “stay-behind” army–founded an association and no one put them in prison. Don’t try to tell me that an accidental fugitive is capable of more mischief than a deranged patriot who hides assault weapons and TNT in his grandmother’s burial vault.

Finally Carlotto has written many fine crime novels which have finally been translated into English.

162 pages

Europa Editions

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2 Comments

Filed under Massimo, Carlotto

2 responses to “The Fugitive by Massimo Carlotto

  1. I’ve read Goodbye Kiss, by Carlotto, which is also in Europa.

    It’s an extraordinary piece of noir, and like all the best noir it’s really about the wider society it’s set in, about contemporary Italy and its failings.

    It’s unredeemingly dark, almost as much so as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but it’s a work by a major talent. I think Carlotto deserves far more attention than he deserves.

    Which is likely my last comment for today, you’ve written up a lot of books that interest me either because I’ve read them too or better yet because I haven’t yet. Lots of back-entry reading for me to look forward to.

    • Guy Savage

      Yes, I think he’s amazing. Such a bleak bleak vision. I had read Dark’s Dark Abyss & The Goodbye Kiss, and I thought that this author’s experiences went far deeper than imagination. But I couldn’t find anything out about his life. It was a giant blank.

      Then Europa came out with The Fugitive, and then everything fell into place. I have his The Columbian Mule sitting on my shelf

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