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BOOK REVIEWS

(if you are interested in submitting a review, please send it to me via e-mail at: kpinsicily@yahoo.com)

KEY TO RATING SYSTEM

[If there had been olives as a font symbol, we surely would have used that instead]

* Not recommended

** Recommended for our non-Italian friends, we Italian Americans already know most of what is included.
*** Recommended; good enough given how many books are available on Sicily.
**** Recommended we [or someone else that we know] loved it; it transports you to Sicily.
***** Highly recommended, not only did it transported us to Sicily, but directly to where we'll be!

 

Books waiting to be read by anyone out there who reads this page and wants to contribute to the review of books. These books are sitting on my shelf aching for a review:

Travels with a Medieval Queen by Mary Taylor Simeti

Six Characters in Search of an Author and other Plays by Luigi Pirandello (This book is highly recommended by people who live here, I started it and haven't finished it)

The World Around Danilo Dolci - A passion for Sicilians by Jerre Mangione

The History of Sicily by M.I. Finley, Denis Mack Smith and Christopher Dugan (This is a very comprehensive book that I use as a reference for more depth on historical events)

 

Sicilian Odyssey by Francine Prose 2003 186 pages
reviewed by Kathy Castania
Rating
:**

Francine Prose is a good writer, but I found it difficult to hear her shallow observations about Sicilians after reading so many other good writers' descriptions. Francine's approach to Sicily was like a tourist making many stops and only getting to see the superficial side of life. She made observations about communication styles by the conversations she had with waiters in restaurants. Despite the number of cultural observers who have stated that to a large extent the culture of the people in the mountains away from the effects of tourists is where the real Sicily lies, she shunned these communities. In one case after not being able to find a parking space in Racamulto (a charming mountain town near here), she wrote about how good it felt to escape it. She obviously is curious about Sicilians and is searching for what is here that intrigues her, but seems to have an agenda that doesn't allow her to take the time to real live it.

Reunion in Sicily by Jerre Mangione 1984 277 pages
reviewed by Kathy Castania
Rating
:*****

Jerre Mangione is a second generation Sicilian American who grew up in Rochester, my home town. I only wish that I had discovered his writing 20 or even 30 years ago. This book, first published in 1950, was the outcome of having been given a Guggenheim fellowship to make observations of post WWII Sicily. What better person, but one of Sicily's own. He returned to his parents' home towns and stayed with relatives (like he had a choice?) His reflections start the minute he set sail and his vivid writing read like a novel as people he met continue to weave throughout the book. He is astutely observant of cultural values and beliefs and isn't afraid to pursue a good political argument particularly about the pros and cons of Fascism with his relatives. I learned so much about the war and its aftermath, which like all of history has left its mark on the people here today. I loved most the descriptions of each of his relatives and their quirky personality traits as well as the descriptions of the city structures following the war bombing. It made me more of an observer of the still present aftermath of the war that is present to this day in Palermo. His book also has made me wonder about the U.S. - Sicilian relations following the war -with the unanswered question about our role in how Sicily was treated following the war and the use of the word "liberators." I think it is a must read.

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa 1960 320 pages
reviewed by Peter Debes
Rating:*****

We finished reading THE LEOPARD a couple of weeks ago. It is the only book the author wrote, and he began writing it when he was 60. I found it fascinating, but warn thriller seekers that there is no racy plot. You have to enjoy having images of Sicily of the late 1800’s painted for you in rambling, many clause sentences, so long, that sometimes you have to go back to the beginning of the sentence to remember the subject. In this,I was reminded of Charles Dickens’ writing. The descriptions brought vivid images to my mind, of heat, dust, class distinction, the winds of political change, and the dull life of nobility. The life of the Prince is gradually revealed as filled with petty tasks of protocol and social responsibilities, political maneuvering, and an indolence generated by not having the pressure of working for a living. I had never read anything before that revealed this aspect of upper class life. Much of Prince’s ennui results from his intellectual curiosity in mathematics and astronomy that isolates him from social and political events. Lampedusa also reveals an insider’s understanding of the Sicilian psyche- distrust, suspicion, bred of thousands of years of invasions and domination. Sicilians go about their business and know how to let big political events sweep over them, without getting swept up by violence, and surviving as the conquerors weaken, fade in their influence and eventually are replaced by the next invaders. Altogether, this book will help prepare you with a better understanding of Sicily and the interactions you have with Sicilians.

The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio 2002 244 pages
reviewed by Phyllis Labanowski [obviously not of Italian descent]
Rating:*****

This book is a collection of short pieces by the author, an Italian American woman in search of her family and her history. Traveling around the south eastern villages of Sicily, she takes us to the small villages around Palermo and Mount Etna. I love how she reflects on her journey. She explains Sicilian culture and nuances. The essays are sweet, she is in love with this island. Make sure you have a map of Sicily with you as you read this book, so you can travel with her.

The Wine Dark Sea by Leonardo Sciascia 2000 198 pages
reviewed by Kathy Castania
Rating:*****

This book of short stories brings to life the nuances of Sicilian life. Each story unfolds in a way that draws you in and makes you think. It reveals the values and philosophy of a people through interesting scenarios - the best way to learn outside of living among the people. As someone of Sicilian descent I was proud and embarrassed at times by what I read - but always fascinated. I recommend that you DO NOT read the Introduction to the book - it gives away too much of endings to the first few stories. I think it is a must read.

Persephone's Island by Mary Taylor Simeti 1986 330 pages
reviewed by Kathy Castania
Rating:****

This book is a woman's account of her life in Sicily. She is a Western European - American who married a Sicilian. Her book is a journal account and is broken up by the seasons. Her love of nature adds an environmental dimension - with reference to what is in bloom during each season and in different locations on the island. Her outsider perspective is interesting and at times annoying. Her writing seems to lack passion and self reflection. However, her attention to specific information on locations and details of what is happening in remote Sicilian villages is just what I needed in preparation for my trip. Her descriptions of festivals and special out of the way events reads almost like a travelog. I recommend that you read at least the section about the season that you will be visiting.

Mattanza: The Ancient Sicilian Ritual of Bluefin Tuna Fishing by Theresa Maggio, 2000 257 pages
reviewed by Kathy Castania
Rating:***

My good friend, Carol Sue Muth sent me this book. I was so thirsty for anything written about Sicily that I found myself reading a book about fishing. I have never fished in my life. Well, I found it fascinating! the author uses her own curiosity to unravel the history, mystique and psychology of this ritual slaughter. The author is Italian American and in 1986 she was drawn to Favignana, an island just off the coast of Sicily. the back cover of the book states, "There she encountered the mysterious world of the tonnara - their ritual trapping and killing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea - and the mattanza, the stunning, bloody climax of the fishing season when the huge fish are wrestled from the sea and killed. She returns annually to witness the timeless struggle between man and the sea." The book was interesting, but had too much detail for me as I sifted through it to find the cultural meaning behind people's actions. It felt like too much work for what I was needing at the time. It definitely shouldn't be the first read on Sicily, but would be a great addition to other cultural explorations. Also, since my family is from the mountain area in the central part of Sicily, it didn't offer a portrayal of where I will be living.

Sicilian Lives by Danilo Dolci 1981 336 pages
Rating:****

This book is a collection of life stories of Sicilians as told to Danilo Dolci. As Dolci helped build unions and charity institutions, he talked to the people he was working with. He asked them about their backgrounds, how they came to be poor or rich, what their values were, and their dreams. The stories are organized into groups according to Dolci's view of their role in society: the indigenous, the parasites, vicious circles, plagues, waste, those who endure, and those who resist.

Short Sicilian Novels by Giovanni Verga 2000 (3rd edition) 200 pages
Rating:***

First published in a single volume in 1883, the stories collected in Little Novels of Sicily are drawn from the Sicily of Giovanni Verga's childhood, reported at the time to be the poorest place in Europe. Translator D. H. Lawrence surely found echoes of his own upbringing in Verga's sketches of Sicilian life: the class struggle between property owners and tenants, the relationship between men and the land, and the unsentimental, sometimes startlingly lyric evocation of the landscape.

Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb 1999 400 pages
Rating:****

A longtime resident of Naples, Robb adeptly puts the elusive world of organized crime (both Neapolitan and Sicilian) in a historical context that stretches back to the 19th century. In Sicily, however, organized crime is not an isolated institution and its pervasiveness is suggested by Robb's brilliant interweaving of writers such as Leonardo Sciascia, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and the artist Renato Guttuso

Mount Allegro by Jerre Mangione 1998 309 pages
Rating:*****

Depicts the lives of Sicilian immigrants in Rochester, New York, in the first half of the twentieth century as their customs blend and clash with those of their adopted country. This would be significant reading as a follow up to our trip- coming back to Rochester and continuing to learn about the history of Sicilians in our hometown.

Widows in White: Migration and the Transformation of Rural Italian Women, Sicily 1880 - 1920 by Linda Reeder 2003 304 pages
Rating:*****

Written about the women in a small mountain village of Sutera in central Sicily, which we will be visiting, during the time of migration at the turn of the century. It examines the social dynamics of families separated for work and how the financial resources from this emigrant labor helped to transform Sicilian labor practices. It is fairly academic reading, but extremely helpful in understanding the impact of migration on Sicily and the lives of ordinary Sicilians.

I Malavoglia (The House by the Medlar Tree) by Giovanni Verga 1984 275 pages
Rating:****

Verga's novel was a classic in it's day. It's stark portrayal of life in the small fishing town of Aci Trezza, Sicily at the turn of the century is considered to be groundbreaking Italian fiction. Verga is considered one of the outstanding writers of modern Europe. This novel is a story of infinite beauty, tenderness and truth. I just discovered a video based on this book. It is La Terra Trema. It is a must see.