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The Wine Dark Sea [Paperback]

Leonardo Sciascia


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Book Description

10 April 2001
Here are some of Sciascia's greatest stories, brief and haunting: the realist tradition at its best. In one tale a couple of men talk, cynically yet earnestly, about the etymology of the word 'mafia'; the reader comes to realise that he is eavesdropping on the musings of a mafia boss and his underling. In another story a group of peasants are taken on board ship and promised that they will be put ashore illegally at Trenton New Jersey. After a long time at sea, their landfall is far from what they expected. And Mussolini himself takes an interest in the case of Aleister Crowley, whose presence in Sicily has become embarrassing.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (10 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862074143
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862074149
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 19.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 786,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

A novelist, polemicist, occasional politician, and perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize, Leonardo Sciascia died in 1989. He left behind a formidable array of books, all of which revolve around the hallucinatory realities of Sicilian life. But the stories collected in The Wine-Dark Sea may be the best introduction to his work. They offer a kind of capsule-history of Sicily, ranging through several hundred years and engaging the country's events from their exhilarating and terrible underside. A good comparison might be the naif's-eye view of Waterloo that Stendhal creates in The Charterhouse of Parma. (Sciascia recalls Stendhal in other ways, too; he shares the same adamant clarity, the same bone-dry wit, which may explain why he's always been a hard sell in the United States.)

These tales all have a certain riddling quality, whether they're providing a nugget of Sicilian history or staging one of Sciascia's many comedies of ironic disillusionment. The superb title story is about the bottomless chasm separating Sicilians and outsiders, bridged only temporarily by a group of strangers travelling from Rome to Agrigento. "Philology," the closest thing to a classic Pirandellian exercise, lets us eavesdrop on two mafiosi cramming for an upcoming session with a Commission of Enquiry. The subject: how to answer the question, "What is the Mafia?" They consult a battery of dictionaries, arguing about the merits of various definitions and etymologies. We are left, in the end, with this reply: "Culture, my friend, is a wonderful thing." So too is fiction, at least in Sciascia's hands. He offers little in the way of certainty, but his questions, posed with deadly accuracy, are worth the answers of a dozen other authors. --James Marcus, Amazon.com

From the Publisher

Media Reviews
‘Few writers managed to capture the taciturn Sicilian character better than Sciascia, who always understood the power of implication in his work. [A] superb collection’ The Times

‘There are 13 stories in The Wine-Dark Sea.. I guarantee you will wish there were more’ Big Issue in the North

‘Granta Books are to be congratulated on making available again in English one of Europe’s most challenging twentieth-century writers’ TLS


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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thirteen Exceptional Stories of Sicily 7 May 2002
By "botatoe" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The Wine-Dark Sea" is a collection of thirteen stories written by Leonardo Sciascia between 1959 and 1972. While less well know in the United States than some of his Italian contemporaries-I think here of Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco-Sciascia enjoys a well deserved reputation in Italy as a writer of novels, stories and political commentary.
Sciascia was a Sicilian. This fact, more than any other, colors all of the stories in this collection. Each of these stories reflects, in some way, the particularities of Sicilian culture and society. There is, of course, the uneasy and often conflicting relationship that Sicily has had with the rest of Italy, particularly the northern part of that country. There is also the pervasive influence of the Mafia on Sicilian life, particularly the strong notions of honor and "omerta," the Mafia code of silence. And there is, finally, the interplay of the tightly knit Sicilian family, the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian state.
The best of the stories in this collection are marked by subdued irony, subtle wit and steely-clear insight into the idiosyncrasies that mark Sicilian life within the larger context of Italy.
In "A Matter of Conscience," a Sicilian lawyer traveling back home from Rome picks up a women's magazine on the train. He reads an anonymous letter to a priest, written by a woman from his hometown, asking for advice. The woman had an affair with a relative for six months, is tormented by her adultery and wants to know whether she should tell her husband. She relates that, "as a very devout person, I have confessed my fault on several different occasions." She then goes on-drawing the distinction between her Sicilian mores and those of the rest of Italy-as follows: "Every priest except one (but he was a northerner) has told me that if my repentance is sincere, and my love for my husband unchanged, then I must remain silent." From here, the story turns into a witty, ironic exploration of life in the lawyer's town as each of his colleagues becomes obsessed with the thought that he is the cuckold.
In "Mafia Western," a big town "on the border between the provinces of Palermo and Trapani" is embroiled in a bloody battle between two feuding mafia cells. It is at the time of World War I and, "the death-toll from assassination [is] comparable to the death-toll of its citizens falling at the front." In dry, matter-of-fact style, Sciascia relates this fictional tale, the interstices of his story relating the society within the society-the society of the mafiosi, the capo and the code of silence. Thus, a mother's son is killed and she knows his assassin. But she remains silent, picking up her son's body and bringing it back home. "The next morning she let it be know that her son died of a wound there upon his bed, but she knew neither where nor by whom he had been wounded. No word did she utter to the carabinieri about the man who might have killed him. But her friends understood-they knew-and they now set about very careful preparations."
In "Philology," two men that are to be called before the Commission of Enquiry investigating the activities of the mafia in Sicily engage in an ironic, witty discourse on the origin and meaning of the word "mafia". They are doing this in preparation for their interrogation, their dialogue a bit of dry, absurd humor that conflates the high intellectual pretension of philological discourse with the pragmatic, cold-blooded realities that underlie their preparations. As one of them says, "the fact is that everyone tries to establish the current meaning of the word before establishing its origin." After exploring possible Arabic and French origins of the word, and the deficiencies in education of the general public, who misunderstand the importance of etymology and meaning, he ultimately presents an ironically pragmatic, if high-sounding, statement of the meaning of the word "mafia": "Mafia implies a consciousness of self, an exaggerated concept of the power of the individual as sole arbiter of every conflict of interests or ideas; from this derives the inability to bear with the superiority, and even more, the authority of others. The mafioso expects respect and nearly always offers it. When crossed, he does not appeal to the law, public justice, but takes matters into his own hands and, should the remedy be beyond his own power, he will call on the assistance of like-minded friends."
"The Wine-Dark Sea," the longest of the stories in this collection, wonderfully depicts the cultural separation between Sicilians and other Italians. In this story, Bianchi, an engineer traveling to Sicily for the first time, shares a compartment with a Sicilian family and "a girl of about twenty-three" who is attached to the family "by ties of family, friendship or casual acquaintance." Over the course of their long train ride, Bianchi, if only briefly, manages to penetrate the seemingly deep cultural divide between him and the family, along the way also sharing a fleeting romantic connection with the young girl.
These are only some of the stories in this collection. There are others that are equally good. In particular, I think of "Demotion" (which provides a fascinating contrapuntal theme of Catholicism and Communism, Saint Filomena and Joseph Stalin) and "The Ransom" (which retells a popular Sicilian folk tale of familial duty, love and betrayal). With the exception of "Apocryphal Correspondence re Crowley," which, at best, is of nothing more than historical interest and utterly unremarkable, "The Wine-Dark Sea" is an exceptionally good collection of stories and a wonderful introduction to an Italian writer that, thus far, has been little read in the United States.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Stories of Sicily 31 Oct 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The Wine-Dark Sea" is a collection of thirteen stories written by Leonardo Sciascia between 1959 and 1972. While less well know in the United States than some of his Italian contemporaries-I think here of Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco-Sciascia enjoys a well deserved reputation in Italy as a writer of novels, stories and political commentary.
Sciascia was a Sicilian. This fact, more than any other, colors all of the stories in this collection. Each of these stories reflects, in some way, the particularities of Sicilian culture and society. There is, of course, the uneasy and often conflicting relationship that Sicily has had with the rest of Italy, particularly the northern part of that country. There is also the pervasive influence of the Mafia on Sicilian life, particularly the strong notions of honor and "omerta," the Mafia code of silence. And there is, finally, the interplay of the tightly knit Sicilian family, the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian state.
The best of the stories in this collection are marked by subdued irony, subtle wit and steely-clear insight into the idiosyncrasies that mark Sicilian life within the larger context of Italy.
In "A Matter of Conscience," a Sicilian lawyer traveling back home from Rome picks up a women's magazine on the train. He reads an anonymous letter to a priest, written by a woman from his hometown, asking for advice. The woman had an affair with a relative for six months, is tormented by her adultery and wants to know whether she should tell her husband. She relates that, "as a very devout person, I have confessed my fault on several different occasions." She then goes on-drawing the distinction between her Sicilian mores and those of the rest of Italy-as follows: "Every priest except one (but he was a northerner) has told me that if my repentance is sincere, and my love for my husband unchanged, then I must remain silent." From here, the story turns into a witty, ironic exploration of life in the lawyer's town as each of his colleagues becomes obsessed with the thought that he is the cuckold.
In "Mafia Western," a big town "on the border between the provinces of Palermo and Trapani" is embroiled in a bloody battle between two feuding mafia cells. It is at the time of World War I and, "the death-toll from assassination [is] comparable to the death-toll of its citizens falling at the front." In dry, matter-of-fact style, Sciascia relates this fictional tale, the interstices of his story relating the society within the society-the society of the mafiosi, the capo and the code of silence. Thus, a mother's son is killed and she knows his assassin. But she remains silent, picking up her son's body and bringing it back home. "The next morning she let it be know that her son died of a wound there upon his bed, but she knew neither where nor by whom he had been wounded. No word did she utter to the carabinieri about the man who might have killed him. But her friends understood-they knew-and they now set about very careful preparations."
In "Philology," two men that are to be called before the Commission of Enquiry investigating the activities of the mafia in Sicily engage in an ironic, witty discourse on the origin and meaning of the word "mafia". They are doing this in preparation for their interrogation, their dialogue a bit of dry, absurd humor that conflates the high intellectual pretension of philological discourse with the pragmatic, cold-blooded realities that underlie their preparations. As one of them says, "the fact is that everyone tries to establish the current meaning of the word before establishing its origin." After exploring possible Arabic and French origins of the word, and the deficiencies in education of the general public, who misunderstand the importance of etymology and meaning, he ultimately presents an ironically pragmatic, if high-sounding, statement of the meaning of the word "mafia": "Mafia implies a consciousness of self, an exaggerated concept of the power of the individual as sole arbiter of every conflict of interests or ideas; from this derives the inability to bear with the superiority, and even more, the authority of others. The mafioso expects respect and nearly always offers it. When crossed, he does not appeal to the law, public justice, but takes matters into his own hands and, should the remedy be beyond his own power, he will call on the assistance of like-minded friends."
"The Wine-Dark Sea," the longest of the stories in this collection, wonderfully depicts the cultural separation between Sicilians and other Italians. In this story, Bianchi, an engineer traveling to Sicily for the first time, shares a compartment with a Sicilian family and "a girl of about twenty-three" who is attached to the family "by ties of family, friendship or casual acquaintance." Over the course of their long train ride, Bianchi, if only briefly, manages to penetrate the seemingly deep cultural divide between him and the family, along the way also sharing a fleeting romantic connection with the young girl.
These are only some of the stories in this collection. There are others that are equally good. In particular, I think of "Demotion" (which provides a fascinating contrapuntal theme of Catholicism and Communism, Saint Filomena and Joseph Stalin) and "The Ransom" (which retells a popular Sicilian folk tale of familial duty, love and betrayal). With the exception of "Apocryphal Correspondence re Crowley," which, at best, is of nothing more than historical interest and utterly unremarkable, "The Wine-Dark Sea" is an exceptionally good collection of stories and a wonderful introduction to an Italian writer that, thus far, has been little read in the United States.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars thinking about visiting Sicily? 1 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Like Sicily itself, the short stories in The Wine Dark Sea connect the classical past with the quirky present of an island that was visited and changed by successive waves of conquerors and visitors. The stories evoke the uneasy relationship that Sicily has with the rest of Italy, the edginess of its residents' relationship with strngers. The stories are of uneven length and quality, and some are much more accomplished than others. They are tall on incident rather than on plot, and one wonders a bit whether something is lost in translation, as Sciascia is acclaimed in Sicily to a degree that seems disproportionate to some of these stories. He is no William Maxwell. But this is a good read for those wanting a sense of the tone of the place before a visit or the memory of it after one.
5.0 out of 5 stars glad i bought it 14 Mar 2014
By joseph martorelli jr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
very profound observation of the people and culture of sicily
and in reviewing the background of the author i believe there is a
family connection , which really deepens the intensity for me
4.0 out of 5 stars Review The Wine-Dark Sea-Midterm 9 Nov 2011
By JNeshiem - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
J.Nesheim
Ethnic Lit.
11/08/11
Syrnyk

The Wine-Dark Sea written by Leonardo Sciascia is a book composed of short stories. Each one of Sciascia's stories has a meaning to it or a life lesson as some would call it. In the first story entitled The Ransom is a story about being unselfish and giving up something in order to gain a reward. The second story entitled The Wine-Dark Sea is a story about deception. A man perceives to trick innocent immigrants from Sicily out of money that they do not have in return for a pretend trip to America. Each story in The Wine-Dark Sea is collected of substance, telling of various life lessons in effective methods. Leonardo Sciascia writes his stories in very compelling ways; he uses descriptive words that are unique. Many immigrants seem to believe that America is the land of the "free" and the "great" when actually it's not as wonderful as the childish fairytales and songs make it seem. I believe the point of The Wine-Dark Sea novel is to provide an educational book with a twist. Leonardo Sciascia is from Sicily and is able to write accurate memories about life in Sicily during his lifetime and he is able to teach to his audience through intriguing literature. He educates his listeners with his memories from the land that he calls home; he provides the thoughts, feelings, and traditions of the Sicilians.
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