Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti is an exhilarating page-turner that masterfully dances between the familiar YA post-apocalyptic setting and the moral predicaments found in classics such as William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.
Many years after a virus killed all the adults, a ruined Sicily is entrapped by time: while children are unaffected by the apocalyptic plague, it lies in wait for them to grow old – then takes them. At age fourteen, the virus wakes from its slumber and kills them. Those children who are left behind scavenge to survive, living day-by-day as they are terrorised by wild hounds and hunger-mad humans and their own pending doom.
Anna is a defiant thirteen-year-old who protects her brother Astor in Mulberry Farm. Every day is tough-going, but there is danger around every corner, and it doesn’t take long for the blue kids – a gang of anarchist, roaming kids armed with guns, knives, and reckless abandon – to disrupt Anna and Astor’s peace and solitude. When Anna meets a dim-witted but endearing boy Pietro, who believes that the right pair of sneakers will make him immune from the virus, she begins to follow a foolish hope: that she might make it past her fourteenth birthday.
And to make matters worse, Astor begins to query the ways Anna has kept him protected, and all of these pressures collide and upset the fine balance of Mulberry Farm, changing everything.
Translated from the Italian, Anna straddles the lines between pop culture’s love for YA postapocalyptic fiction and a severe, more mature world of isolation and depravity. It calls to mind the likes of Cormac McCarthy’s masterful The Road and Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster trilogy The Hunger Games, without ascribing to the stylistic atmosphere or plot turns of either writer. For non-Italian readers there’s a specific joy in Ammaniti’s portrayal of a desolated Italian countryside, ripe with the stain of tragedy that blemishes its sublime, rolling beauty.
Anna is a poetic, sensitive read, and we recommend it to people who are suckers for escapism.
Niccolò Ammaniti was born in Rome in 1966. He has written two collections of short stories and six novels, four of which have been translated into English. He was the youngest ever winner of the Italian Viareggio Literary Prize for Fiction for his bestselling novel I’m Not Scared, which has been translated into thirty-five languages. The Crossroads received the Premio Strega Prize in 2007, Italy’s equivalent to the Booker prize.