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To Each His Own (Black & White) Paperback – 1 Apr 1992
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About the Author
LEONARDO SCIASCIA (1921-1989) was Sicilian by birth and vocation. Sicily is the fierce locality that focuses his work and, in a peculiarly pure form, exemplifies the political, social and spiritual tensions of a Europe modern only to a degree.
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Top customer reviews
The Latin phrase "suum cuique tribuere" or "to each his own" is one of the three fundamental maxims of the law laid down by the Emperor Justinian. The peculiar interpretation of that phrase in Sciascia's native Sicily forms the emotional core of his brilliant "To Each His Own."
"To Each His Own" begins with a double-murder. A local pharmacist, Manno, receives a death threat in the mail, compiled with words and letters cut and pasted from a newspaper. The pharmacist laughs it off. He considers the letter to be a joke and although these threats are usually taken seriously in his town, Manno leads a blameless life and simply cannot believe anyone intends him harm. So he goes off hunting the next day with his friend Dr. Roscio and, without further ado, both Manno and Roscio are shot dead in the woods.
A police investigation follows but it is doomed to go nowhere. Sciascia paints a very explicit portrait of a society in which everyone knows (or suspects) everything but says nothing, certainly not to the local police. The general consensus (on the surface) seems to be that Manno was killed by a jealous husband and Roscio was an innocent bystander. The matter would have ended there but for the curious intercession of Professor Laurana. Laurana is a history and Italian teacher at the local liceo (high school). He walks into the pharmacy where the police are reading the anonymous letter and quickly spots a clue. The police dismiss his information out of hand. Laurana, however, driven by what appears to be no more than a desire to solve a puzzle, decides to follow up on the clue. In short order he seems to have solved the mystery. Laurana is oblivious to the fact that his musings on the crime pose more of a threat to the murderers than a typical local police investigation. Events play out to their natural conclusion, and in Sciascia's Sicily natural conclusions are not quite so neat and tidy as say in Agatha Christie's parlor room England.
The enjoyment to be found in reading "To Each His Own" is not the mystery itself. The fact of the matter is that, for Sciascia, solving a mystery doesn't require great insight. Rather, it simply requires a willingness to actually see that which is self-evident. As blind as Laurana may be to the danger he puts himself in, he can see well enough to understand why Manno and Roscio were murdered and who murdered them. Laurana's problem is not that he knows more than anyone else in town, Sciascia makes it clear that the actual events do not seem a surprise to anyone. No, Laurana's problem is that unlike everyone else in town, he doesn't bother to hide his knowledge.
Sciascia's writing is both precise and enjoyable. He seems to have a keen eye and affection for his native place, but that affection does not diminish, but likely enhances, the despair he feels for a culture in which silence is golden and in which "to each his own" does not bring to mind Roman traditions of equity but, rather, the critical importance of minding ones own business. "To Each His Own" is a cynical, but highly-entertaining piece or work. L. Fleisig
Apart from the letter, which was composed of words clipped from a newspaper pasted to form new sentences, the only clue seems to be the stub of a cigar, found at the murder site. Professor Laurana, a friend of both the pharmacist and the doctor, intrigued by some words seen on the back of the newspaper clippings, but failing to interest the investigating police marshal in them, sets out to do some sleuthing of his own. His investigations lead him, and us, to meet many fascinating personalities in a variety of interesting locations.
This is a highly literary detective novel, employing a vocabulary (ably brought to us by translator Adrienne Foulke) likely to flex parts of our own not exercised on a daily basis. Should we be so inclined, we can also follow-up some literary and artistic references with which we are unlikely to be wholly familiar. Leonardo Sciascia (pronounced Sash-arr), who took a notably jaundiced view of policemen, politicians, the church and other institutions in Italy, especially in Sicily, leads us to some interesting reflections on human nature, life and death. Highly recommended.
1. In the first paragraph 'versicolore' is translated as 'particolored' instead of 'multicolored'. Why not use the more common term?
2.'La lettera composta con parole ritagliate dal giornale' becomes 'The letter was pieced together out of newsprint,' instead of 'The letter was composed of words cut from a newspaper.' Newsprint is a grade of paper, not a printed page.
3. 'C'e gente a cui prudono le corna; e si mette a fare di questi scherzi' is 'Some people's horns itch them so that they go around playing tricks like this.' This may be an accurate literal translation, but does it really convey the meaning, which is 'some people have nothing better to do'?
4.The phrase 'secondo me' is translated twice in quick succession as 'according to me', which seriously grates on the ear: 'in my opinion' or 'in my view' would read more smoothly. English grammar is quite clear that 'according to' should only be used when referring to an opinion from someone else.
I'm afraid that for me the translation detracted from the enjoyment of the story, which would otherwise have merited five stars.