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Authors: Gianrico Carofiglio

Temporary Perfections

BOOK: Temporary Perfections
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Involuntary Witness
A Walk in the Dark
Reasonable Doubts

The Past Is a Foreign Country

First published in the United States of America in 2011
by Rizzoli Ex Libris, an imprint of
Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
300 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010

Copyright © 2010 Gianrico Carofiglio
First Italian edition Sellerio editore via Siracusa 50 Palermo, January 2010
This edition published by arrangement with Rosaria Carpinelli Consulenze Editoriali srl

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior consent of the publishers.

The characters, events, and situations depicted in this novel are entirely imaginary.

Distributed in the U.S. trade by Random House, New York

eISBN: 978-0-8478-3746-5

Library of Congress Catalog Control Number: 2011930247


Grateful acknowledgment is made for
permission to reprint the following:

this page
this page
Lyrics and music by Francesco De Gregori © Copyright 1976 by Universal Music Publishing Ricordi Reproduced by kind permission of Universal Music MGB Publications

this page
: LA CANZONE DELL’AMORE PERDUTO (F. De Andrè) © 1968 by Edizioni Leonardi Srl—Milano La Cascina Edizioni Musicali Sas—Rozzano (MI)

this page
: Excerpt from the work of Alan Watts. For additional information on the works of Alan Watts please visit

this page
: Excerpt from Umberto Eco’s “The World of Charlie Brown,”
Apocalypse Postponed
, reprinted courtesy of Indiana University Press.

this page
: Quote from
Dead Poet’s Society
, reprinted courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

this page
: Excerpt from
, reprinted courtesy of Icon Distribution, Inc.

this page

this page
this page
: “PHILADELPHIA” © 1993 TriStar Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

this page
: Excerpt from Hannah Arendt’s
The Human Condition
, reprinted courtesy of University of Chicago Press.


It all began with an innocent phone call from an old college classmate.

Sabino Fornelli is a civil lawyer. If one of his clients runs into criminal problems, Sabino calls and gives me the case. Then he washes his hands of it. Like many civil lawyers, he thinks of the criminal court system as a dangerous and disreputable place. He tries to steer clear of it.

One March afternoon, while I was absorbed in an appeal I was scheduled to argue the following day before the Court of Cassation, I received a call from Sabino Fornelli. We hadn’t spoken in months.

“Ciao, Guerrieri, how are you?”

“Fine, how about you?”

“Same as ever. My son’s doing a semester abroad, in the U.S.”

“Great. Wonderful idea, that’ll be a memorable experience.”

“It’s been a memorable experience for me, certainly. My wife’s been driving me crazy since the day he left. She’s been worried sick about him.”

We went back and forth for a few more minutes, exchanging the usual platitudes, and then he got to the
point of his call: Two clients of his wanted to see me about a sensitive and urgent matter. He spoke the words “sensitive and urgent” in a hushed voice that struck me as slightly ridiculous. The most serious case Fornelli had referred to me so far was a dramatic little affair involving obscenities and insults, a beating, and a breaking-and-entering charge.

Basically, given our past history, I couldn’t take it too seriously when Sabino Fornelli called any case he sent my way “sensitive and urgent.”

“I’m going to Rome tomorrow, Sabino, and I don’t know what time I’ll be back. The next day is Saturday.” I glanced quickly at my appointment book. “Ask them to stop by late on Monday, some time after eight. What’s the case?”

He didn’t speak for a moment.

“Fine, some time after eight. I’m going to come, too. We’ll tell you all about it in person. That’ll be easier.”

Now it was my turn not to speak for a moment. Fornelli had never come to my office with any of his referrals. I was about to ask him why he was doing it this time, and why he couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but something stopped me. Instead, I just said that it was fine and I’d expect them in my office at 8:30 on Monday. Then we both hung up.

I sat there for a minute, wondering what this was about. I couldn’t think of an explanation, so I went back to my appeal.


I like appearing before the Court of Cassation in Rome. It’s Italy’s highest court, and the judges are almost always well informed. They rarely fall asleep during hearings, and the chief magistrates, with the occasional exception, are courteous, even when they’re ordering you to keep it short and not to waste the court’s time.

The Court of Cassation is different from the criminal courts and especially the appellate courts. When you appear before the Court of Cassation, you feel you’re in an orderly world, part of a justice system that works. That’s just a feeling, of course, because the world is
orderly and justice is
served. Still, it’s a nice feeling to have, and I’m usually in a good mood when I have to argue a case before the Court of Cassation, even though it means I have to get up earlier than usual.

It was a beautiful day, chilly and bright. The airplane took off and landed on time, defying the prevailing pessimistic expectations about air travel.

During the taxi ride from the airport to the courthouse, I had an unusual experience. The cab was just pulling away from the terminal when I noticed a dozen or so paperbacks piled on the passenger seat. I’m always curious to
see which books people have in their homes, so I was even more curious about these books, found unexpectedly in the front seat of a cab. I glanced at the covers. There were a couple of mass-market detective novels, but also Simenon’s
Red Lights
, Fenoglio’s
A Private Affair
, and even a book of poetry by García Lorca.

“What are you doing with those books?”

“I read them, between fares.”

Fair enough—a stupid question deserves a short answer. What does anyone do with books but read them?

“I asked because it’s a little … unusual to see books in a taxi, especially so many of them.”

“That’s not true, actually. Lots of cab drivers like to read.”

He spoke an almost unaccented Italian, and he seemed to choose his words deliberately. He handled his words with caution, as if they were delicate—even slightly dangerous—objects. As if they were razor sharp.

“I’m sure you’re right. But you have a whole library up there.”

“That’s because I like to read several books at once. I switch depending on my mood. So I bring a lot of books with me, and then I forget to take home the ones I finish, and before you know it I’ve got a whole pile of them.”

“I like to read several books at once, too. What are you reading now?”

“A Simenon novel. One reason I like it is that part of it takes place in a car, and I spend all my time in a car. That helps me appreciate it. Also, some García Lorca poems. I really like poetry, but it’s pretty challenging. And when I’m tired, I read that one.” He pointed at one of the mass-market mysteries. He named neither the title nor the author of the last book, and rightly so, I thought. I felt as if
there were a complete aesthetic—precise, incisive, and well-defined—in the way he had discussed, and tacitly classified, his current reading list. I liked that. I tried to get a look at his face, from the elusive glances I caught of his profile as he drove and from his reflection in the rearview mirror. He was about thirty-five and pale, with a hint of shyness to his eyes.

“How did you become such an avid reader?”

“You won’t believe me if I tell you.”

“Try me.”

“Until I was twenty-eight, I’d never picked up a book in my life outside of school. And I had a speech defect: I stuttered. I had a very bad stutter. You know, a stutter can ruin your life.”

I nodded. Then I realized he couldn’t see me.

“Yes, I can imagine. But you speak perfectly,” I said. As I said it, though, I thought of his cautious way of speaking, the way he handled the words with care.

“After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to see a speech therapist, and I took a course to get rid of my stutter. During the course we read books aloud.”

“And that’s how you got started?”

“Yes, that’s how I discovered books. I finished the course, but I kept on reading. People say everything happens for a reason. Maybe I stuttered because I was meant to discover books. I don’t know. But now my life is completely different from the way it used to be. I can’t even remember how I used to spend my days.”

“Well, that’s a great story. I wish something like that would happen to me.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you like to read?”

“No, no, I love it. It’s probably my favorite thing. What
I meant was I wish my life would change in some fantastic way like yours did.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. We were quiet as the car sped along the bus-and-taxi lane of the Via Ostiense.

BOOK: Temporary Perfections
6.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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