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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Run For Your Life
by Silvana Gandolfi
Age Range: 12+
Six-year-old Santino is a talented runner who lives in Palermo, Sicily. His family are poor and struggle to make ends meet and with his first communion approaching his father and grandfather carry out a theft to pay for the party. Unfortunately they steal from the wrong people – the Mafia. When Santino accompanies them to the Ghost Town – an abandoned neighbourhood destroyed by an earthquake – he wanders off to follow a little white goat, but on hearing shots he runs back towards the car. Now he is in serious danger: witness to a brutal double murder he is chased and shot at as he tries to flee. Seriously injured, Santino is lucky to be alive. However, his life has irrevocably changed forever and he’s left with a terrible choice: cooperate with the police and be ‘rat’ or maintain Omertà: the code of silence.
Twelve-year-old Lucio lives in the northern Italian city of Livorno and dreams of sailing when not taking care of his young sister Ilaria and his sick mother. One day, Lucio’s mother goes missing and he finds a mysterious text on her phone which she’s left behind in their apartment: “Come to Palermo, Mamma is dying”. This message sends Lucio into a complete panic. Without thinking it through he grabs Ilaria and they set off for Sicily where the stories of both Santino and Lucio converge powerfully together.
Run for Your Life, by Italian author Silvana Gandolfi, translated by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, is an incredibly powerful novel that has you hooked from the very first page. Gandolfi doesn’t shy away from confronting the central theme of the Mafia head-on. As the citation from the Prix Sorcières Judges’ for Best Novel for Teens commented – “Violence is not masked behind a metaphor”. Inspired by a real-life Mafia episode, it manages to successfully convey the very real fear experienced by Santino and Lucio, the brutal cruelty, even towards children by the Mafia and the tremendous courage needed to do the right thing in the face of such danger. The reader really feels they are in the Ghost Town with Santino or on the Sicilian streets with Lucio – “I feel like a cracked vase that everything has leaked out of: pride, dignity, courage, heart, guts. The only thing remaining in the vase is terror. A terror that fills me completely. A blinding terror.”
The plot is well constructed with an ingenious twist. Combined with the kindness of those whose job it is to keep Santino and Lucio safe gently permeates the story leaving the reader with great respect for their selfless courage in the face of ever-present danger and being steeped in Sicilian culture, this is an unforgettable novel that will linger long after it has been put down.
Run For Your Life was an honor winner of the Mildred L. Bachelder Award in 2019. Alabra, or the Tortoise Who Loved Shakespeare by Silvana Gandolfi is also reviewed on this website.