What Hell Is Not

Pages: 368
Subject: Fiction, Translated Fiction
Imprint: Oneworld

What Hell Is Not

Alessandro D'Avenia

Translated by Jeremy Parzen
A heart-rending story of deprivation and resilience in mafia-run Palermo
9781786076830 (7 Nov 2019)
RRP £8.99 / US$15.95
9781786072757 (24 Jan 2019)
RRP £14.99 / US$24.95

The Book


Sicily, 1993. Fear rules the streets of Palermo. Teenage boys patrol the narrow streets armed with guns, marking out the territory of their mafia bosses. This is what hell is. 

Federico, a privileged local boy, is asked by his teacher, Don Pino, to help out at the youth club he runs in one of the most destitute areas of the city. A tangle of alleys controlled by men with nicknames like The Hunter, it is also where kids like Francesco, Lucia and Totò never give up hope for a different life. Over that long hot summer, far removed from his familiar surroundings, a new world opens up for Federico, but when Don Pino is murdered, the future of the kids is entrusted to his young hands.

Based on real events, What Hell is Not is a heartrending story of deprivation and resilience that ultimately demonstrates the transformative power of small acts of love. 


Additional Information

Subject Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages 368
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Alessandro D'Avenia teaches Ancient Greek, Latin and Italian Literature at a high school in Milan and is a regular contributor to the newspaper Corriere della Sera, writing on the subjects of literature and education. His debut novel, White as Milk, Red as Blood, was translated into twenty-two languages and turned into a film. Together with his second novel, it spent three years on the Italian fiction top ten bestseller list, selling more than one million copies in Italy alone. What Hell Is Not is his third novel.

Jeremy Parzen studied Italian at UCLA. He is a translator, blogger, musician and wine writer. He lives in Houston, Texas.


‘A beautifully written novel, translated from the Italian, with a heartwarming story... The language soars like a symphony. The notes are in perfect pitch.'

- New York Journal of Books

‘If, like me, you are a fan of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet, I urge you to check out What Hell is Not.'

- Literary Hub

‘A mature work that looks the theme of evil and violence in the eye.'

- Libero

‘Rich in figurative language... [the story is] equally rich in characterization and setting.'

- Booklist

‘D'Avenia convincingly conveys the extent of the deprivation and of the reach of the Mafia's influence and control... [He] has a lyrical touch amid the violence and the squalor.'

- Herald Scotland

‘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.'

- Marjorie's World of Books, blog review

‘The dark story of Father Pino's passion and death is a long shriek of grief, but it is not in vain: it is also a hymn to love that becomes beauty.'

- Antonia Arslan, author of Skylark Farm