Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari, Antony Shugaar (Translator)

I first heard about Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto from Shelf Awareness and decided to pick it up on Kindle.  I was unaware of the book’s history – this is the first English translation of what has been labeled  “one of Italy’s most beloved fables” – but something about it intrigued me (lighthearted, fables, young adult, etc.).  It turned out to be an easy read and rather witty in places but somewhat inexplicable as well – but fables often have this quality I suppose.  The line drawings add to the silly and almost absurd feel.

A modern fable for children and adults: a story of one man’s quest for eternal life and how finds it in the most extraordinary of ways—in the grand tradition of Saint-Exúpery’s The Little Prince

When we first meet 93-year-old millionaire Baron Lamberto, he has been diagnosed with 24 life-threatening ailments—one for each of the 24 banks he owns! But when he takes the advice of an Egyptian mystic and hires servants to chant his name over and over again, he seems to not only get better, but younger.

Except then a terrorist group lays siege to his island villa, his team of bank managers has to be bussed in to help with the ransom negotiations, and a media spectacle breaks out . . .

A hilarious and strangely moving tale that seems ripped from the headlines—although actually written during the time the Red Brigades were terrorizing Italy—Gianni Rodari’s Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto has become one of Italy’s most beloved fables. Never before translated into English, it’s a reminder, as Rodari writes, that “there are things that only happen in fairytales.”

What makes the story interesting is adroit blending of the all too believable with the incredible – the fabulism and humor blended with the more serious aspects like media spectacles  and the threat of terrorism. The characters interact in humorous but totally believable and understandable ways. We recognize the stock type characters (dedicated butler, lazy but greedy nephew, board of directors and their secretaries, and the townspeople) and enjoy the humor of Lord Lamberto’s new-found youth.

When the band of Lamberto’s take over the island and issue their demands the story takes a turn toward the even more incredible but at the same time very serious.

But there is a surreal quality to it and there was little resolution to the story – it just kind of ends (it did, however, include a twist I didn’t see coming which is always fun). In this way it reflects its connection to classic fables which often lack the tidy resolutions and clear messages we often produce today. But for me, something just didn’t click – there seemed to be no rules or overarching template.  Anything can happen and probably will; which again, can be fun but also frustrating.  The Complete Review also found it a bit too freewheeling and disjointed.

An interesting and fun read but I didn’t find it as poignant as many other reviewers.

Perhaps it is the nature of a children’s book to be too simplistic for “adults” or that we seek to make sense of everything when the author isn’t attempt to do so.  And I will confess that I often fail to “get” the symbolism and/or underlying meaning behind fables and allegories or stories with these elements.  So  as always, your mileage may vary depending on taste and mood.

But if you like lighthearted and whimsical stories with a touch of the fantastic this is one you will enjoy.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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