Sicily: Books and Videos
*** The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Here is one of the world’s great novels. We read of raids by Garibaldi’s troops, of aristocrats struggling to stay afloat, of jilted romance, and of the irrepressible rise of the bourgeoisie. It is essential reading.
***The Revolution of the Moon, Andrea Camilleri. This wonderful work of historic fiction set in 17th c. Palermo concerns the short reign as Viceroy of Eleanora de Moura, a widow who in twenty-eight days upends a cabal of the corrupt councilors who never imagined a woman would get the better of them. Camilleri is better known for his Detective Montalbano novels also set in Sicily. See below.
Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb. A fascinating study of the Sicilian underworld and Italian political intrigues. Robb also has a biography of Caravaggio, portions of which take place in Sicily.
**Chasing Aphrodite, Ralph Frammolino. This is a page-turning account of art thievery, shady art-world dealings, and cover-ups, mostly involving artifacts smuggled from Sicily and subsequently acquired by American museums. Great background reading for our visit to Aidone, a backwater village near the archeological site of Morgantina and the source of many smuggled artifacts. Today, the Aidone museum proudly displays works returned from the Metropolitan and Getty Museums.
The Optician of Lampedusa, Emma Jane Kirby. In this 2016 book, Kirby, who covered the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean for the BBC, focuses on Mennas, an optician from the Sicilian town of Lampedusa who goes fishing one morning only to discover a sinking ship and dozens of drowning refugees. Mennas and his friends pull 47 of them onto his boat meant to carry 10, and bring them to safety. A short but deeply moving work of non-fiction.
The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia. Next to Lampedusa, Sciascia is the most important Sicilian novelist. Spare and slightly fatalistic, his novels offer a fascinating window on the Sicilian middleclass.
***Excellent Cadavers, Alessandro Stille. Perhaps the best examination to date of the Sicilian Mafia.
Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano. This 2007 investigation of the Italian underworld shocked readers and catapulted Saviano into stardom. It’s a brutal look at organized crime, primarily in Naples, but it give a good sense, nonetheless, of how organizations such as the Mafia function. The movie is also difficult but excellent.
On Persephone's Island, Mary Taylor Simeti. The journal of the life of an American woman who has made her home in Sicily for more than 30 years. Beautiful descriptions of Sicilian life.
***Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. This biography of Caravaggio, a very complex character, is excellent in every way. A perfect background for the 8 Caravaggios we’ll see on the trip.
The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri. A really good, funny, exciting crime novel that captures much of the spirit of Sicily. All his books are excellent.
Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History. John Julius Norwich has devoted much of his career to the various "histories" of Italy: Venice, Puglia, Naples and so on. Lots of titles and perhaps some overlap of material: Sicily, A Short History; The Normans in the South; The Kingdom of the Sun, A short history of Byzantium; Byzantium the Early Centuries and so on. These are "Gentlemen's Histories": personal, anecdotal, engaging. Perfect background reading for a trip to Sicily.
Steven Runciman's Sicilian Vespers, A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century was recommended to me by one of our most avid readers. Specifically, it is an account of the 1282 revolt by the long-subjugated Sicilians against the French Angevin overlords. In more general terms, Runciman offers a broad portrait of Europe at the dawn of the Modern Era.
A House in Sicily, Daphne Phelps. In 1947 Phelps inherited a small villa in Toarmina. This is her memoir of Sicily, the trials of making ends meet, and her memories of some of the famous guests who stayed with her. It is a beautiful house, which we can visit.
An Italian Journeys regular and an avid reader suggests the following books: Seeking Sicily. by John Keahey explores what lies behind the soul of Sicily's inhabitants. It touches on history, archaeology, food, the Mafia, and politics, and looks to Sicilian authors, especially Sciascia, to plumb the so called " Sicilitudine".
Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini. While traveling through the Sicilian countryside the narrator reconnects with his roots and rediscovers basic human values. A very touching exploration of how centuries of domination and profound poverty have formed the Sicilian character.
And how about Sicilian cooling: a reader wisely suggested two cookbooks which I myself have. They are beautiful fo look at, to read, and occasionally to actually use. Anna Tasca Lanza is one of the principal forces behind a revived appreciation of Sicilian cooking. She runs a cooking school on her estate. I’m sure it would be a treat to attend. Or, a simpler solution: get ahold of her cookbooks: The Heart of Sicily and The Flavors of Sicily.
***The Leopard. Long but wonderful. Lancaster at his best.
Cinema Paradiso. A charming if sentimental film about a small Sicilian town.
***La Scorta. This is a gripping look at the life of an anti-mafia judge and the close relationship that developes between him and his body guards. Set in and around Palermo.