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Sicilian Uncles [Paperback]

Leonardo Sciascia , N. S. Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

12 Jun 2001
The expression 'Sicilian uncle' has the same sense in Italian as 'Dutch uncle' does in English, but with sinister overtones of betrayal and inconstancy. The four novellas in Sicilian Uncles (1958) political thrillers of a kind - are the first fruits of Sciascia's maturity. In these stories, illusions about ideology and history are lost in mirth, in suffering, and innocence is abandoned. Each novella has its historical moment: the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Spanish Civil War, the death of Stalin, the 'events' of 1948. These occasions and their consequences are registered in the lives of Sciascia's wonderfully drawn characters. Each has voice, wit, and a private history which open out onto the wider circumstances of his time, and hint towards the later work of Sciascia.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (12 Jun 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862074380
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862074385
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 383,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


District Attorney Varga is shot dead and then two judges are murdered - Inspector Rogas works his way into the mind of his prime suspect in Equal Danger, a wide-ranging political thriller that brilliantly evokes Sicily by a great European writer. There are four novellas in Sicilian Uncles in which illusions about history and ideology are lost in mirth, in suffering and the abandonment of innocence. Each is set in a historical moment: the events of 1848, the Spanish Civil War, the Allied invasion of Sicily and the death of Stalin.

About the Author

Leonardo Sciascia was born in Sicily in 1912 and died there in 1989. Like Joseph Roth, Sciascia worked with deceptively simple forms - books about crime, historical novels, political thrillers - and was a master of lucid and accessible prose. This polished surface conceals great depths of sophistication and an intense engagement with the moral and historical problems of modern Italy, especially of his native Sicily. His books are rooted in a particular culture; they speak to anyone who has ever wondered how people can endure unbearable injustice.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four superb novellas about Sicily and Sicilians 20 Oct 2011
By Blue in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWER TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Leonardo Sciascia was one of the great Italian writers of the 20th Century. Most of his books are now in translation and very much worth tracking down and reading. His collection of novellas, "Sicilian Uncles" was first published in the 1950s and must have been, in part, quite provocative for an Italian society and political environment that was still recovering from the traumas of the Mussolini era and WWII and was still a Cold War political battlefield. One of the stories in this collection, "The Death of Stalin", speaks in an insightful voice to the disillusions suffered by West European Communists (in this case Sicilians) as their long-time iconic leader is revealed to be something of a monster by his Kremlin successors.

The opening story in "Sicilian Uncles" deals with the liberation of Sicily from the Germans by American troops in 1943, and the saga of one family's bittersweet connection with relatives who immigrated to the U.S. before the war and return to proselytize with some smugness to their island cousins. A third novella, "Forty-Eight", focuses on the years of transition (1840-48) when Sicily slowly moved from being part of a creaky monarchy, ruled from Naples, to enthusiastic supporter of Garibaldi and his republican liberation movement. A final story takes a poignant look at Sicilians and Italians who were dragooned into fighting in Spain during the Civil War of the 1930s by Mussolini, who saw a chance to further the cause of Fascism in support of Franco and his rebellion against the Spanish Republic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it 10 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An absolute delight, beautifully written, thoughtful and thought- provoking, in particular the story set among the Italian solders fighting with Franco in Spain. Highly recommended.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not so simple 26 Dec 2012
By macsen
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliant writing, never read Sciascia before but sure to become a fan, mystery with a difference, the title is so mis-leading

Recommened to everyone
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillo book! 31 Oct 2010
- a must read for anyone who cares about the future of this planet, honestly!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four slices, Sicilian 24 Jan 2008
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on
When I was a kid, growing up in Queens, New York, I would walk into a pizza place and ask for a slice of pizza. The response was invariably "plain or Sicilian?" A plain slice (or a Neapolitan) is the traditional triangular slice of pizza with a thin crust and thin layer of dough as the base. A Sicilian pizza on the other hand was square and much larger than a regular pie. It had a bigger crust and a much thicker layer of dough on the base. Basically, it was an earthier, more basic piece of pizza. It is simple food that fills the belly. Leonardo Sciascia's "Sicilian Uncles, Four Novellas" consists of four earthy slices of Sicilian life. Although these stories represent some of Sciascia's earliest writing they are very satisfying. By the time you are done reading them you will have developed a real (if narrow) feel for the world Sciascia grew up in.

The first story, "The American Aunt" is set in a village in Sicily at the conclusion of World War II. It looks at the dislocation of life in Sicily through the eyes of a young man and his family. Former partisans vie with former supporters of Mussolini as Italy and Sicily seek ways to adapt to the post war world. The heart of the story involves the arrival of the boy's American aunt, spreading $5.00 bills and food packages to family members while pushing them back into the arms of the Church and away from the `dreaded Communists". "The Death of Stalin" takes us up to 1953, the year Stalin dies. It looks back at Stalin's life through the eyes of a local Communist supporter. We see rationalization at the Hitler/Stalin Pact and the party purges, then on through the war years and the subsequent denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Party Congress. "Forty-Eight" describes the historical alliance among the landed gentry, the church and the military as the political unrest of 1848 (including calls for reform and liberation by Garibaldi) plays itself out in a small village far from Rome, Berlin, Vienna, or Paris. Finally, "Antimony" involves a Sicilian peasant who joins the Italian army to fight with Franco's army during the Spanish Civil War.

Leonardo Sciascia's stories about his native place, Sicily, are filled with despair and fatalism. He writes of a place where strong notions of family, corruption as usual, and an acceptance of organized crime as a fourth branch of government sets the stage for his stories. These stories take `big-picture" events, wars, civil wars, and revolutions, and place them in small village. Sciascia's protagonists are not princes and potentates who set these events in motion but, rather, the peasants who are buffeted by each and every political and social wave that washes through their village. That may sound grim but Sciascia's writing makes the experience pleasurable. He has a keen eye and doesn't waste words. Each story is well written and easy to read.

"Sicilian Uncles" is out of print. I spotted this volume at my local library and checked it out. If you are hungry for a good set of stories, for some Sicilian slices, you won't go wrong looking for this book the next time you get to your library. Failing that, his later novels including The Day of the Owl (New York Review Books Classics) and To Each His Own (New York Review Books Classics)are terrific examples of his writing.
L. Fleisig
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sicilian quartet of historical fiction 3 Sep 2010
By R. M. Peterson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) is best known for his detective novels set in Sicily - though the point should be made that they transcend the genre of crime fiction. Given its title, SICILIAN UNCLES sounds like yet another work of crime fiction. In actuality, it is a collection of four stories (31 to 61 pages in length) that are historical in nature. But they too are part of Sciascia's lifelong body of work exploring the social and political milieu of Sicily. In these stories Sciascia depicts aspects of the anarchy that is Sicily in the context of four historical episodes.

The first story is "The American Aunt". Its setting is 1943 to 1948, beginning with the Allied invasion of Sicily. Many Sicilians already had relatives in the United States, and with the American occupation of Sicily the importance and influence of the United States increased. For Italy, the first major political decision was between the Monarchy and the Republic (behind which there loomed the specter of eventual Communism). Sciascia develops these two situations through the narrative of a young Sicilian boy whose aunt had emigrated to the United States (Brooklyn), made a providentially affluent marriage, and was now striving to order the affairs and channel the religious, political, and social views of her relatives back in Sicily. This is the most conventional story in the book and, to my mind, the best.

In "The Death of Stalin", Sciascia chronicles the continuously tested optimism and idealism of a Sicilian communist between 1939 and 1956. It is a good account of the confusion and anxiety that Stalin engendered among the European proletariat who had adopted the populist communist vision of a just workers' society, but it is only so-so as a story.

"Forty-Eight", the title of the third story, has become Sicilian slang for "disorder or confusion". It is derived from the events of 1848 when a revolution against the Bourbons resulted in a brief period of nominal independence but practical anarchy. The story is an entertaining, oft-amusing account, as played out in one small city, of the vacillating political fortunes of the monarchists versus the liberals between 1847 and 1860, when Garibaldi conquered the island (eventually to install, to the dismay of many of his supporters, a new monarchy). Especially noteworthy in the story are the arrogance and hypocrisy of both the nobility and the Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, "Antimony" is the story of a Sicilian fighting with the troops that Mussolini sent to Spain between 1936 and 1938 to support Franco and the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The narrator is essentially apolitical; he is fighting more or less as a mercenary, in order to make money inasmuch as he no longer can deal with the dangers of the Sicilian sulphur mines where he had labored. Eventually he realizes that "of all Mussolini's faults, that of having sent over thousands of Italian poor to fight the Spanish poor can never be forgiven him." In the end, the story has more to say about the strange dynamics of the Spanish Civil War than it does about Sicily. Arguably Sciascia tries to do too much with this story, but withal it is packed with noteworthy observations of history, philosophy, and politics.

SICILIAN UNCLES is not a five-star book, but it is commendable historical fiction, the sort that both instructs and entertains. As such, for the general reader I give it a moderate recommendation. However, for those with a special interest in Sicily (or, in the case of "Antimony", those with a special interest in the Spanish Civil War), my recommendation is stronger.
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