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A portrait of Sicily without compromises
on 23 February 2002
Sciascia is one of those Sicilians who don't like pleasing themselves. His prose is crisp and precise, direct as some glances Sicilian people give are. He does not want to talk about Sicily justifying its people; he has never intended to deny the presence and the influence of mafia, reducing Sicily to an island of dream, where nothing else matters but the sea, the memories of Greek gods and its beautiful women.
On the contrary, Sciascia has wanted -since his beginnings- to stand on the difficult side of the story. That is, the side of those who describe Sicily with the love of sons and still find some pride and honesty for accusing its people.
The Day of the Owl is a book of this latter category. Written during the sixties, it describes the situation of poverty and conspirancy of silence of a small fictional village. When a man is misteriously murdered, the young police captain just come from the north has to struggle against the barrier of fear, silence and ignorance that has led to the brutal act, learning at his expenses the secret laws that rule this land.
Far from being a black-or-white account of Sicily, the book investigates- with its open end that can sometimes leave the reader unsatisfied- the interaction between evil and good in Sicilian society. Perhaps the topic moment of the story is when the policeman interviews the local mafia boss- and gets a lesson on Sicilian life and on the division between 'galantuomini' (good men, sirs) and quaquaraqua' (stupid useless men).
This is not a book for those who want to get an easy account of mafia as a criminal association. Rather, it is a sensitive and accurately balanced analysis of feelings and moods in the Sicilian society of the sixties. To do so, Sciascia uses the detective-story genre and builds a story which is fiction and essay at the same time.
Many of the things told in the book are peculiar to a society which does not exist any more in Sicily. But some of the reflections upon Sicilian culture are fundamental and must be put side by side together with Tomasi di Lampedusa, Verga and Vittorini.
This is the cruel Sciascia, the sharp one.
If one wants to discover the sweet side of his writing- Sicily as an idealised land of childhood memories and never-ending poetry and epics, I would recommend to read Candido (unfortunately not in English translation), The dark-wined sea and Sicilian Uncles, his first novel.