Heart­felt de­scrip­tions of rough jus­tice, Ital­ian-style

Wait­ing to be Heard: A Mem­oir

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­of­frey Luck Ge­of­frey Luck

By Amanda Knox HarperCollins, 461pp, $29.99

ITAL­IANS (the ‘‘ beau­ti­ful peo­ple’’) have a beau­ti­ful word you won’t find in any dic­tionary: di­etrolo­gia. Be­hind (di­etro) any event there is likely to be an ex­pla­na­tion other than the ob­vi­ous one. Think of it as the an­tithe­sis of Ock­ham’s Ra­zor, if you will.

The idea en­com­passes what we recog­nise as con­spir­acy the­o­ries, but of­ten, in more sin­is­ter vein, al­lu­sions to the oc­cult. Su­per­sti­tion and sus­pi­cion run closely to­gether, es­pe­cially in Italy’s po­lice forces.

So it was that in Novem­ber 2007, when the half-naked body of a young Bri­tish univer­sity stu­dent named Mered­ith Kercher was found in her room in Peru­gia, raped and stabbed through the throat, the real clues and the most ob­vi­ous sus­pect were dis­re­garded.

In­stead, the Ital­ian po­lice seized an Amer­i­can house­mate of the dead girl, Amanda Knox, and her Ital­ian boyfriend, Raf­faele Sol­lecito. The prose­cu­tor then con­cocted an im­plau­si­ble sce­nario of a drug-fu­elled sex orgy that had gone wrong to ex­plain the mur­der. Even when the real mur­derer was ap­pre­hended and jailed, he per­sisted in his per­se­cu­tion of the two lovers.

Wel­come to jus­tice in Italy. That could well have been the ti­tle of Knox’s mem­oir of her or­deal. In­stead, she has called it Wait­ing to be Heard. It’s ap­pro­pri­ate. On her own ad­mis­sion, Knox was a naive, im­ma­ture, over­con­fi­dent and con­se­quently stupidly trust­ing girl, adrift in a for­eign coun­try and un­able to speak its lan­guage. Six years af­ter the mur­der, she still seems to find it hard to come to terms with the fact her child­ish in­tent to ‘‘ help the po­lice’’ worked to in­crim­i­nate her.

The world has in­deed been wait­ing to hear her take on a story that pro­vided years of sala­cious fod­der for even the most re­spectable news­pa­pers. A trans-At­lantic feud de­vel­oped be­tween sup­port­ers of the Bri­tish vic­tim and the Amer­i­can ac­cused. In the US, an­tiA­manda blog­gers cre­ated two web­sites, True Jus­tice and Peru­gia Mur­der File, to cre­ate a vi­cious furore. The edi­tor of on­line news­pa­per The Daily Beast won­dered if Amanda’s ‘‘ pretty face’’ was per­haps only a ‘‘ mask, a du­plic­i­tous cover for a de­praved soul’’.

Sorry, no. Any­body who still be­lieves Knox and her boyfriend were guilty of Kercher’s mur­der hasn’t been pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Read­ers of this mem­oir may be dis­ap­pointed that Knox has sup­pressed nat­u­ral feel­ings of anger and grief. Wait­ing to be Heard of­fers no new facts on the case. The thoughts and feel­ings are hers, but the prose was shaped by Wash­ing­ton jour­nal­ist Linda Kul­man. It is a bland, straight­for­ward ac­count in diary for­mat of her ap­pre­hen­sion, in­ter­ro­ga­tion, two tri­als and four years’ in­car­cer­a­tion in the con­crete prison built on the freez­ing plain be­low Peru­gia for the mafia tri­als of the 1990s. Ear­lier books on the case, such as Barbie Nadeau’s An­gel Face and A Death in Italy by re­porter John Fol­lain, a re­porter for Bri­tain’s The Times, evis­cer­ated Knox’s rep­u­ta­tion. Whether she was coun­selled that an un­emo­tional style was the best way to counter her crit­ics and the sen­sa­tion­al­ism sur­round­ing her case, I don’t know. But I sus­pect what we now hear is the real Amanda Knox. And un­der­stand how in­ept po­lice and a cor­rupt prose­cu­tor saw her as a blank page on which they could write their fan­tas­tic script.

She be­gins sim­ply: ‘‘ I walked into the an­cient Peru­gian court­room, where cen­turies of ver­dicts had been handed down, pray­ing that a tra­di­tion of jus­tice would give me pro­tec­tion now.’’ It didn’t. But that sen­tence sets the tone for her re­call of an ex­pe­ri­ence that only a 20-year-old with ex­tra­or­di­nary re­serves of char­ac­ter could have sur­vived. Midnight in­ter­ro­ga­tions, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, weird and some­times vi­o­lent cell­mates, a cor­rupt pros­e­cu­to­rial process mar­ried to a feral me­dia pack through lies and po­lice leaks, soli­tary con­fine­ment, a 26-year sen­tence with­out re­mis­sions — it all comes tum­bling out as in a dream.

This book will per­suade no­body who still thinks she con­spired in the mur­der. But what lifts it above a crime and court­room story is her heart­felt de­scrip­tion of life in an Ital­ian jail. Two peo­ple helped her. Laura, the bi­sex­ual cell­mate who taught her: ‘‘ You come first, sec­ond, third, then ev­ery­one else .. Ev­ery­one here is fake.’’ That saved her san­ity when ev­ery woman in the block re­fused to speak to her. And the prison chap­lain, Don Saulo, who let her play his gui­tar and didn’t try too hard to con­vert her.

She wrote let­ters for il­lit­er­ate mothers and played with their chil­dren. Fac­ing a quar­ter -cen­tury be­hind bars, where most women of her age would have crum­bled, she clung to her in­no­cence and per­fected her Ital­ian so she could fol­low the ap­peal process and make her fi­nal plea to the court with­out an in­ter­preter.

The warders did lit­tle but se­cu­rity — all the work, in­clud­ing cook­ing (with knives!) and clean­ing, was done by pris­on­ers. Knox learned the best and worst ways of com­mit­ting sui­cide, but never re­ally con­sid­ered them. In her time, two pris­on­ers in the men’s wing chose the pre­ferred method: a garbage bag and gas can­is­ter suf­fo­ca­tion.

Then there are the su­per­sti­tions of hope. A pris­oner go­ing to court to learn the judg­ment leaves her bed un­made as a sign she’s not com­ing back. On ac­quit­tal, she must break her tooth­brush in two and leave her bed­sheets to her cell­mate. When she leaves, she must scrape her right foot along the ground, just be­fore she gets into the car. ‘‘ It means you’re promis­ing freedom to the next pris­oner.’’

As she was be­ing con­victed in 2009, the prose­cu­tor who tor­mented her was found guilty of abuse of of­fice in an­other case. The deputy chief prison warder who ha­rassed her has now been charged with the rape of an­other pris­oner. This book was meant to end with Knox’s ac­quit­tal on ap­peal and tri­umphant es­cape from Italy. But a month be­fore the print run, Italy’s Supreme Court or­dered a re­trial, on grounds not re­vealed at the time of writ­ing.

Knox is safe in Seat­tle. She broke her tooth­brush; she would be a fool to re­turn.

Bri­tish pa­pers re­port Knox’s suc­cess­ful ap­peal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.