The First True Lie by Marina Mander
An utterly compelling, heartbreaking novel that introduces a revelatory young voice
Meet Luca, a curious young boy living with his mother, a taciturn woman who “every now and then tries out a new father.” Luca keeps to himself, his cat, Blue, and his words–his favorite toys. One February morning his mom doesn’t wake up to bring him to school, so Luca–with a father who’s long gone and driven by a deep fear of being an orphan (“part of you is missing and people only see the part that isn’t there”)–decides to pretend to the world that his mom is still alive. Luca has a worldly comprehension of humanity, and grapples with his gruesome situation as the stench of the rotting body begins to permeate his home.
But this remarkable narrative is not insufferably morbid. Luca also pretends that Blue is his personal assistant and that they’re on an expedition in outer space together; he goes for observant trips to the store, where he uses the contents of a basket to astutely assess the person who’s filled it; he fantasizes about marrying his school crush, Antonella (whose freckles on her nose are described as being a pinch of cinnamon on whipped cream.)
Ultimately, we are witness to something much more poignant that needs no translation: the journey of a young boy deciding–in a more devastating manner than most–to identify himself independently, reaching the point at which he can say: “I am no longer an orphan. I am a single human being. It’s a matter of words.