First, I’d like to draw attention to a new feature I have added to my blog called ‘What I’m reading’ where I will file book reviews all together as a page. Here is my first review. For weeks I debated whether I really wanted to share this, but I felt it was important, so here it is:
I recently finished reading Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey. It’s the non-fiction account of American college student Amanda Knox and British college student Meredith Kercher, who were studying in Perugia, Italy in 2007 when Meredith was found murdered. Knox was blamed, after confessing during a sleep-deprived interrogation in which she was yelled at, bullied, and hit by the officers. She immediately recanted her statement, once she was left alone and had time to regroup.
I never followed this case much, and figured that the bits of it I caught on the news, portraying her and her Italian boyfriend as crazy, sexually-obsessed killers, was accurate. I thought it was a sad story, but not a story that I really cared to know much about.
However, upon reading this book, I couldn’t help but be strongly reminded of a similar situation I found myself in, in April of 2001, when I was returning to Italy from Albania. After a really rotten time and a dangerous crossing of the Adriatic Sea on a stormy night in a tiny boat (due to bad weather the boat ride had been delayed and delayed, until finally the only option running was a small boat filled with Albanian workers, going to Italy) I arrived in southern Italy. After having traveled through Albania, I was so glad to be back on Western European soil that what was about to unfold would not register as a huge deal in my life. Over the years I have not given it much thought. At least I hadn’t until I read this book.
The thing is, none of the border patrol officers believed that two Americans in their twenties would travel in Albania for pleasure. No one believed that we were tourists, because no one tours Albania. Arriving on a small, rickety boat didn’t help matters. When my traveling companion, toting the backpack that had probably accompanied him to a dozen Phish concerts, petted the drug-sniffing dog like it was his long lost pooch, that was simply too much for the border patrol. We found ourselves detained in a small room with many Italian police officers questioning us about what we’d been doing in Albania. At first I was relatively unfazed. Annoyed with my fellow traveler for being an idiot. Tired. But compared to Albania, land of blood feuds and broken down buses and washed out roads, where women were strangely absent and there were guys standing around with machine guns everywhere, I was not that concerned. Honestly, I had been pretty sure I was going to die there, or in that boat, and I was just glad to sit down someplace clean.
Despite having been detained completely based on their suspicions alone, this detainment seemed justified. I guess I figured they pulled anyone suspicious aside and questioned them, just to be safe. I felt that traveling is unpredictable and you just have to roll with what comes your way. This seemed like a hiccup, nothing more.
The officers searched through our bags. They dumped everything out on the floor and picked through our belongings, commenting in Italian on my underwear and other personal belongings. I began to wonder where exactly this was going. I began to be a little bit concerned about whether justice would prevail, because nothing was feeling orderly or professional. They talked to us then yelled at us then talked to one another. They brought in other officers who spoke better English. They asked us again and again what we had been doing in Albania. As it got later and I got more and more tired and hungry, I began to get over my relief at being back on Western European soil and I began to wonder when this would end, when we would be able to leave. They stopped questioning us and most of them went away, leaving us sitting there, waiting, and then returned, with a woman officer. And I instantly knew what this meant. We were going to be strip searched. I began to cry.
“Why are you crying?” they asked me.
“I know why she is here. You’re going to strip search us,” I said.
Somehow, in this moment, a zipper in my fellow traveler’s backpack that had not been uncovered was opened by one of the officers, and inside was a chintzy souvenir Albanian flag. The type of thing a drug smuggler would probably not bother buying. And they let us go. Just like that, what could have been a nightmare was over.
Since Italians eat dinner very late, we were still able to go out to eat. As I recall, sitting down and eating was all we cared about. I don’t recall if we even talked much about what had just happened. Really, so much had happened over the past couple of weeks that it seemed incidental.
I lumped this experience as the final detail of Albania, and even blamed it on Albania in my mind. If we’d returned via Greece instead, this wouldn’t have happened, I figured.
But so much of Murder in Italy reminded me of that long forgotten night that the older, wiser, more careful and settled version of myself looks back at it, wondering how it kept from spinning even more out of control. Like Amanda Knox, I was young and underestimated the gravity of what was happening. I trusted that since I was innocent, they would figure out that I had done nothing wrong. The difference is that she was suspected of murder, and she was even younger and more trusting than I was. Not to mention more sleep deprived by the time she confessed. This book convinced me that she and her boyfriend, along with their families, were victims of a government that wanted to quickly solve a case and turn attention away from the possibility of their city having a legitimate crime problem. They ruined her reputation and almost let the real killer get away. It’s a sad story, one I probably would not have believed if her story was not so familiar to me.
It may seem like a stretch to say that what happened to me and my fellow traveler compares to what happened to her and her boyfriend, but the descriptions in the book, and the way both interrogations began, seemed very similar to me. I think when she first sat down she probably felt very much the way I felt, like she as just going to roll with this and it would be okay, only things ended up much differently for her.
To me, the mark of a great book is whether you think about it after you put it down. I wouldn’t normally classify a true crime type of book as great, but this one stuck with me, and compelled me to tell my own story in defense of Amanda Knox. I believe she is innocent and I hope other people will read this book and see through what happened to her as well.