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Four superb novellas about Sicily and Sicilians
on 20 October 2011
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.
In these novellas, Sciascia was interested in several repeating dynamics common to much of Sicily's modern history: tension and conflict between the haves and the have nots; the role of the Catholic Church in the political life of the community; and the general cynicism held by the average Sicilian (and probably most Italians) in dealing with any kind of authority. While the reader learns a great deal about the history of a rather obscure corner of Europe (from a general American perspective, at least), Sciascia has also provided wonderful characters and entertaining dialogue that will appeal to any lover of fiction. This is terrific writing--accessible, intelligent and always credible. A wonderful collection that is a little difficult to find, but available through Amazon (with patience) or from used book dealers.