In about six weeks I am about to start my one month expedition to Sicily. To prepare myself I have done fairly extensive reading on the island, its culture and history including various guidebooks, history books, cultural surveys and a bunch of marvellous novels including Camilleri, Lampedusa, Pirandello, Goethe, Maupassant, Sciascia,...
I was first quite excited about Mr. Keahey's book. It seemed to cover topics of central importance to a first time traveller like myself.
Mr Keahey is well read. He knows the local historical development quite well, he has a good knowledge about the cultural gems of the island, he is familiar with the myths and legends fermenting there, he has a keen eye for the habits and life of the local people, etc.
After careful reading I cannot hide my slight disappointment. For an island like Sicily you real have to be an expert to give an informative account on the historical and cultural development of the island. As mentioned by many other authors the tragedy of Sicily is that its history is in many ways dictated from outsiders who have ruled and exploited the island to their purposes. Thus to know the local events and their dates really explains very little because most of them are related to much wider developments in the Mediterranean area, Italy, Iberian peninsula, in the Balkans, Africa, and Central Europe. And we are about a time span of three-four thousand years. The same goes for the culture.
Thus, in close reading Mr. Keahey's reporting on the history and cultural history of the island makes a boring reading.
Similarly many other chapter, such as the section of food, are superficial - Mr. Keahey is hardly a culinary expert himself. There is not personal message to be conveyed. The descriptions on local events are verbose and external.
If you like to a better introduction to the history, read highly enjoyable the latest book by J J Norwich, "Sicily: A Short History, from the Greeks to Cosa Nostra". For the cultural history the best introduction I have come across is the small book by J Farrell, "Sicily: A Cultural History", a small personal gem by a professor on Italian literature. And, of course, don't forget the wonderful Sicilian literature!
This review is a reaction to the bloated reviews appearing on Amazon pages.
Nevertheless, many good pieces of advice are to be found there. For instance, for my own travel planning his statement that from one location you can study easily "one third of Sicily" by car. I used this as an advise to find four "camp locations" for my own expedition, initially I planned six.
Despite my critique I appreciate the effort John Keahey has put to his book. The challenge was to simply too big. An extensive article of 20-30 pages had done the job perhaps better.
I work in Sicily as a tour leader. This book is amazing. It's a wonderfully written book, has probably the best history in a nutshell I've ever read, shows the passion of the author for the Island. I loved it! I know a lot about Sicily but with this book I was still learning. Beautiful book. Highly recommended.
I guess I wanted something with more historical/political content - not the fault of the writer. But this tells of a journey through Sicily with lots of descriptions of cultural life - much of it disappearing and probably to be eventually lost - so a very valuable and nostalgic record.
The author through his personal acquaintances takes us inside Sicily. He does not make the mistake of trying to write a guidebook to the entire island, but instead limits his scope to the places he knows best and loves -- an ideal introduction to 'real' Sicilians.