Yambo Bodoni has a problem. After suffering a stroke, he lost his episodic memory. Now he can't remember his name, family, or any aspects of his life. Thanks to a lifetime of work as an antiquarian book dealer in Milan, however, he can recall anything he's ever read. In order to rediscover his lost past, Yambo heads to his childhood hometown of Solara. As he pores through old newspapers, comics, and magazines, Yambo - and the reader - get glimpses into the often tragic and bittersweet reality of a boy coming of age in Italy during World War II.
This book provides examples of:
Aborted Declaration of Love: After nursing his schoolboy crush on Lila for weeks, Yambo finally musters enough nerve to confess everything. He waits for her to come home from school, mentally going over exactly what he's going to say. When Lila arrives, he can barely stutter out a single sentence of small talk before awkwardly leaving.
Action Survivor: Yambo, due to helping the Cossacks narrowly escape the Germans.
Adorkable: Judging by how much attention he gets from women, Yambo certainly qualifies.
Amnesiac Hero: Yambo. The novel even starts out with him at the hospital awkwardly trying to figure out his name.
Amnesiac Lover: Much to the chagrin of Yambo's wife Paola, who has to provide him a brief summary of his life.
Amnesiacs Are Innocent: Played with. Yambo wonders if he was romantically interested in his assistant, only to discover she's already taken.
Atheism: After years of a Catholic upbringing, a teenaged Yambo has a revelation as he watches a soccer match with his father. He can't quite explain it other than "God does not exist." He confesses shortly afterward and, according to Paola, he never went to any soccer matches as an adult.
I must have had it in my head, from that day on, that going to a match meant losing my soul.
Badass Grandpa: Yambo's grandfather spends two decades tracking down Merlo, the Fascist who destroyed his newspaper business and forced him to drink castor oil. He returns the favor - and thensome - exactly twenty one years later.
He also harbors four deserters by sealing them in his chapel and tricking the Black Brigade members that were pursuing them.
Downer Ending: Yambo never sees Lila's face, isn't sure what memories are real, and may be dying in the last third of the book. It's possible that everything after the moment he finds Shakespeare's First Folio is the visions of his life before his death.
Failed a Spot Check: Gragnola let his guard down once he got the Cossacks escorted out of town. It doesn't end well.
Gainax Ending: The last forty pages or so are Yambo having a stream of consciousness-style monologue in which he wonders whether he's really been dreaming the whole book, dreaming he's in a dream, it he's a Brain in a Jar, etc. He then prays to Queen Loana in an attempt to see Lila's face, resulting in several illustrated visions of the fictional characters and people from his childhood, culminating with him appearing at Lila's foyer in the past, waiting for her to come home from school so he can confess his love. Before he can see her face, however, the sun turns black and the novel ends.
Harmful to Minors: Undertaking a mission that meant facing certain death at the hands of the Germans, and knowing his would-be mentor killed some of them in cold blood, and finding out said mentor killed himself didn't do a lot of good for Yambo's childhood.
Just a Kid: Completely justified during the Cossacks' escape from Solara. The young Yambo does not deal with the nearly botched escape, the deaths of two Germans, and Gragnola's suicide well.
Knight in Sour Armor: Gragnola spends a lot of time philosophizing over Italy's condition in wartime and the likelihood of God Is Evil. He's also the one who volunteers to get the Cossacks out of Solara after Yambo guides them through the Gorge.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Yambo can only remember things he's read, resulting in dialogue crammed with quotes and references.
Loss of Identity: Played depressingly straight. Yambo quickly realizes that he can't even recognize his family.
Yambo becomes increasingly obsessed with Lila throughout the school year, culminating with him waiting for her to come home from class so he can finally confess his love. Not only does he not confess, he barely makes a sentence of small talk before retreating. Even worse, Lila barely even knows Yambo, and is implied to be dating a college boy!
Yambo returns to Solara in an attempt to regain his memory. He fails, ends up even more confused, and might be dying in the last third of the book.
Skewed Priorities: Young Yambo really wanted his childhood crush to notice him, to the point of getting obsessed with the school play and ignoring his studies.
Want to sneak up and prank the boys from the next town over? Try learning how to climb (and nearly dying in the attempt) a nearly impassible Gorge.
The Smart Guy: Yambo. Judging by his lengthy dialogues, Gragnola was one as well.
Speaks in Shout-Outs: Given how he can only remember things he's read, Yambo's got a bit of this going on.
Survivor Guilt: Yambo has it after he finds out Gragnola died. The fact that he was just a kid at the time makes it even worse.
Thanatos Gambit: Gragnola escorts the Cossacks to safety and kills himself before he could be interrogated. As a result, his Fascist captors don't report the capture, thus sparing Solara from being burned to the ground.
He had screwed them all: Fascists, Germans, and God in a single stroke.
Title Drop: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is the name of an old comic book Yambo finds in his childhood home.
Together in Death: Yambo hopes this is the case with him and Lila, but the book ends before he sees her again.
Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Due to the volatile political circumstances near the end of World War II, the townspeople in Solara have to harbor a group of Cossack deserters and protect them from Germans and Fascists, the very groups most sided with years before.
When you are on the dancefloor, there is nothing to do but dance.