Poetic mix of beauty and violence


What Hell is Not by Alessandro D’Avenia

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

“Take away love and you will have hell.  Give love and you will have what hell is not.” Father Pino

In Palermo, Sicily in 1993, violence runs rampant in the Brancaccio section.  Mafia bosses incite fear into the hearts of the teenage boys there.  That fear is what causes these young teenage boys to carry guns as they begin to test their own violent tendencies.  One teenager, Federico, is more privileged than some in Palermo.  He is a lover of words and has been nicknamed “Poet”.  His teacher, Don Pino, has asked him to help him at the youth club.  A whole new world opens up for Federico as he gets to know what some of these young boys face each day.  When Don Pino is murdered by the mafia, it is left to the young Federico to continue his loving work.

This book is based on the real life of Giuseppe Puglisi, which makes the story even more poignant.  I can’t help but think of the author as being the teenage boy, Federico, since they both have the heart of a poet.  Each short chapter of this book is a work of poetic beauty, some showing the transformative power of love and some showing the devastation that hate brings into the world.  The author’s poetic wording is in sharp contrast to the ugliness of some of the events in the book, which makes the horror seem even more horrific.  It’s not an easy book to read.  First, there are some hard-to-read violent parts, though the author does not resort to using gore to shock his readers.  Also the writing style of the author took me some time to get used to and may not be to every reader’s taste.  He doesn’t always make it clear who’s speaking and because his writing is so poetic, I didn’t always understand what he was trying to say.  It was quite a slow read due to that.  But there are moments of beauty in his writing that make the effort well worth it.


This book was given to me by the publicist in return for an honest review.