REVIEW: Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto, by Gianni Rodari

Here is a farcical tale of a ninety-four-year-old Italian one-percenter who discovers a fountain of youth only to have his home island occupied by a gang of terrorists determined to force Baron Lamberto to share his wealth.

Filled with lighthearted tomfoolery and clever quips, Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari transports readers to the magical island San Giulio, located on fishless Lake Orta. At the novel’s beginning, Lamberto and his faithful umbrella-toting manservant Anselmo spend their time reviewing Lamberto’s 24 distinct ailments.

The baron gets his numbers mixed up sometimes.

“Anselmo, I am really suffering from twenty-three today.”

“Your tonsils?”

“No, my pancreas.”

“Begging your pardon, Lord Lamberto, but we have the pancreas listed as number eleven.”

The two-man show continues until the pair invites six individuals to live in the baron’s attic and, without explanation, pays them to repeat the name “Lamberto” over and over again, day and night. The reason becomes clear when the decaying baron and his trusty butler discover he is gradually aging in reverse. We come to learn that the baron and his butler are acting on the advice of an Egyptian fakir who offered this unlikely remedy for growing old. Now the ninety-four-year-old baron appears to be a healthy forty years old and spends his days swimming around the island of San Giulio and practicing calisthenics.

But the good times cannot last. When Lamberto’s ne’er-do-well nephew Ottavio arrives, anticipating the death of his aging uncle, the reader knows bad things are afoot. Surprised by his uncle’s renewed vigor, Ottavio, plots to hasten the reading of Baron Lamberto’s will, if you catch my drift. But before he can complete his dastardly deed, the island is invaded by a team of terrorists.

Gianni Rodari’s tells the tale in a style that never takes itself too seriously and even occasionally breaks the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly. Peppered throughout the pages are Federico Maggioni’s absurdist line drawings, which enhance the capricious nature of the tale. Being a translation from Italian, one can’t help but think it would come off as even more whimsical and amusing in its native tongue. Though it will remind readers of Roald Dahl, the imagination is not as broad or bizarre as Dahl’s work, but that is a high bar to set. Stuffed with amusing characters and off-the-wall events, Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto evokes a texturally rich setting that skillfully weaves together satire and fantasy.  You’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy this young adult fairy tale from Italy. If anything it might make you happy to hear someone repeat your name.

Paul Gasbarra holds an MFA from UNC Wilmington. He is mostly a schlub who enjoys reading things from time to time and attempting to make intelligent comments about them.

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