if most Americans think of Italian wines at all, they are most likely to think about Chianti in those cute bottles or maybe Barolo, which is an excellif most Americans think of Italian wines at all, they are most likely to think about Chianti in those cute bottles or maybe Barolo, which is an excellent robust red wine. There are other outstanding Italian wines--but who thinks of Sicily as a wine-producing area? Though Italian-American, I had no idea that Sicilian wines even existed until a few years ago after reading an Inspector Monalbano episode )and seeing the movie), in which there is a humorous scene where a bottle of Corvo White plays a very minor role. I found my first bottle of Corvo Bianco in, of all places, David, Panama, where I was living at the time. an inveterate white wine drinker, I liked it much better than the good California Chardonnay I usually drank. It was different, perhaps spicier, but it went down well with a meal.
But moving to Sicily in 2013, I discovered a whole new world of Sicilian wines. Corvo, it seems, is a vino da tavola--a table wine, meant for everyday drinking, pleasant but not memorable. Still, I found other, extremely cheap white wines that were even better in my opinion. Then at Christmas time this past year, in browsing the wine racks of our favorite supermarket, I came across wines from Mt Etna, the active volcano about 90-100 miles from where I live. I'd give them a try, I thought, just out of curiosity.
To my surprise, I found that they were very different from any other white wine I'd ever tasted, including the Corvo Bianco which now seemed pretty tame by comparison. I became a fan of Etna wines.
Because I buy books in a rather strange fashion, I had deep in my Kindle library a book called Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, that I had bought while still in Panama but knowing that we were moving to Sicily. I recently resurrected the book and read it.
Camuto spent over a year in Sicily in 2008, traveling around to the different regions, visiting winemakers, and learning everything h could about the wines and why they are what they are. What a treasure trove of information, not only about Sicilian wines, but about its food (in the author's and my opinion, the best cuisine in the world), the culture, The Leopard (a world classic novel about Sicily in the mid-19th century that has been called the third testament of the Sicilian Bible), and its relevance today, people, places, you name it. But above all, it is a paean to wine and the people who lovingly grow the grapes and make that wine. Who knew that there were so many factors affecting what you get out of a single varietal?
This book is an easy, interesting read, and will probably produce a strong urge to rush out to search for Cerasuolo di Vittoria (produced a few miles from where I live) or Inzolia whites or any of a dozen other types of wine. But I would strongly recommend looking for the whites from Etna, which are utterly remarkable.
Camuto visited maybe a dozen winemakers from all over Sicily including the Pantelleria Islands, and has done a fine job of describing the wines and what they are like. At the end of the book, he lists contact information formally of the winemakers he visited, including some websites of the larger ones, such as Planeta and COS. That was in 2008. I suspect that a Google search would turn up more web sites of the other winemakers mentioned.
This is a great book for anyone who likes wine but, like me, is no connoisseur. Even if you can't find a drop of Sicilian wine in your neighborhood, you'll come away with an appreciation of not just wine, but a very special island and the people who inhabit it.
This is an early Montalbano, published originally in 2002 before Italy adopted the euro--it's clear from thevreference to costs in lire. But it was isThis is an early Montalbano, published originally in 2002 before Italy adopted the euro--it's clear from thevreference to costs in lire. But it was issued in English in 2014, translated not by Stephen Sartorelli, Camilleri's usual English translator, but by two others, both Italians. As a result,mthe style is quite different from the rst of the books done by Saltarelli, closer, I think. To the origonal language used by Camilerri, which is a mixture of Sicilian and Italian; Sartarelli's style gives a distinct flavor tonthe Sicilian passages, especially for some of the characters' dialgue.
The book is shor, more of a novella, and for Montalbanonfans, utterly typical. Camilleri has a wonderful sense of humor that is typically Sicilian and it is present throut this book. I would recommend this book for those who aleady know and love the series, but not for beginners--you really don't get the distinctive characterizations of Fazio, Xatarella, and Mimi Augello in this particular work. Best to start with the first book in the series, The Shape of Water. But for fans? It's fun....more
Camilleri is best known for his Commisario Montalbano series, but relatively recently, inspired, he says, by the publication of the Report on the SociCamilleri is best known for his Commisario Montalbano series, but relatively recently, inspired, he says, by the publication of the Report on the Social and Economic Conditions of Sicily (1875-1876), he has written two novels, Hunting Season and The Brewer of Preston, both set in this time period. In addition, The Brewer of Preston is based on a real incident that took place around this time in Caltanissetta, a town not far away from Agrigento and Porto d'Empedocle, the sites of Camilleri's fictional towns of Montelusa and Vigata, respectively.
The book is extremely funny. Camilleri has a marvelous comic sense and a very keen sense of character both of which he uses to great effect while writing a novel that is, in reality, quite a commentary on the social and political conditions of late 19th century Sicily. For those not familiar with Italian history, Sicily had joined the newly-formed Monarchy of Italy in 1866, just 11 years before the events of the novel, and there were plenty of people dissatisfied with the replacement of one monarchy (that of the Bourbons) with another, the House of Savoy based in the Piedmont of Northern Italy. One of the main characters in the novel is Traquandi, a Roman who is a Mazzini or follower of Mazzini, one of the founders of Italy's Risorgimento or revolution for independence. Mazzini strongly promoted a republic rather than a monarchy, and he still had plenty of followers at this time.
In a lovely literary twist, Camilleri starts the first sentence of his chapters with either a quote or nice play on the first sentence of various novels. I recognized only one, from Italo Calvino's If On A winter's Night a Traveler but the notes explain the references well. Also, I simply cannot believe that Traquandi is NOT a reference to Tancredi, a character in Di Lampedusa's The Leopard, one of the finest novels ever written about Sicily, and which takes place mostly in this time period.
I've lived in Sicily now for over a year, and that has been enough time to give me a sense of just how well Camilleri has captured the sense of Sicily. The characters are true to their time, but they are also true to being Sicilian; their descendants are alive and well today.
The book owes its charm, wit, and integrity to the superb translation by Steven Sartarelli, Camilleri's long-time English translator. Camilleri, at least in the Montalbano series, needs a deft hand. I've not read the original Italian for this book, but in the Montalbano series, Camilleri uses a fusion of Italian and Sicilian to help distinguish his characters as Sicilian, and Sartarelli does a masterful job of conveying that distinction. Whatever the circumstances, Sartarelli has without doubt done his usual outstanding job, making the book a fun and isnructie read for English-speaking readers.
Recently, I decided to read The Casual Vacancy. To say that I was startled by the book is somewhat misleading--puzzled would probably be better. WhileRecently, I decided to read The Casual Vacancy. To say that I was startled by the book is somewhat misleading--puzzled would probably be better. While I thought that Rowling had again demonstrated her prowess as an outstanding writer, a question kept coming up into my mind--why did she write this book?
The Harry Potter series is straight story telling, combining what is at base a powerful morality tale with a great rite-of-passage for three extremely likable children using an excellent fantasy vehicle. The same can be said for her Strike private detective series--great storytelling in a recognizable genre.
But The Casual Vacancy? I read Peyton Place when it was first published (yes, I am that old) and liked it because I thought it rang true to life. The best way I can describe The Casual Vacancy is to say that it is Peyton Place moved to Pagford, a small village in western England, and updated to reflect the second decade of the 21st century. There is a plot of sorts: a parish councilman dies suddenly, and all sorts of people come out of the woodwork to vie for the seat. Politics at any level does not bring out the best in character and personality, and the election in Pagford is no different. But the plot is merely the excuse to do what at times seems like an in-depth sociological study of the emotional pathology of just about every member of the village, regardless of age. No one is spared.
What is remarkable about the book is that despite the fact that the characters are unlikeable (the few exceptions are more or less neutral), the book is intriguing enough and well written enough to have kept my attention and interest throughout until the somewhat surprising "end", if end it is.
But over and over again, the question kept intruding: why did Rowlings write this book? At the end I still had no answer. For that reason, I dropped it to 4 stars instead of 5 and can give it only a qualified recommendation. It's a very fine piece of writing and an intriguing read, but that may not be enough to keep many people reading on through to the "end"....more
Umberto Eco is Italy's leading literary figure. He is probably most famous outside of Europe for his hugely successful book The Name of the Rose, andUmberto Eco is Italy's leading literary figure. He is probably most famous outside of Europe for his hugely successful book The Name of the Rose, and its hugely successful movie by the same name, ushering in (or at the very least popularizing, since Ellis Peters may have been first) the whole subgenre of medieval mysteries.
That was a relatively straightforward book, because Eco can write some really strange ones. Foucalt's Pendulum took on the whole era of fascination with the occult and the fabrication of documents purporting to be of the Knights Templar, done as a sort of joke but winding up a deadly one. In succeeding novels, Eco has shown a concern for such manufactured documents that hook into popular imagination and fears and take on a life of their own.
Such is the basis of The Prague Cemetery, where the documents in question are the supposed Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a flagrantly false piece of anti-Semitic trash that appeared in the late 19th century, purporting to show how the Jews were plotting to take over the world. References to this piece of trash appear regularly even today; as recently as 12 years ago (the last time I spent any time in the US), someone actually referred to it as real in a conversation. I have no doubt that I would hear about it even today if I hadn't left the US at that time. The New York Times once wrote that The Protocols was the most widely circulated publication after the Christian Bible.
The protagonist, Simonini, an Italian living in Paris, an utterly unlikeable and repulsively rabid anti-Semite who is a professional forger, is fictional but Eco populates his book with historic figures: politicians, bureaucrats, army officers (as in the Dreyfus case in France), writers, activists from any number of nations, including France, Italy, and Russia. Starting the timeline in the first third of the 19th century, he uses the Risorgimento, the war to unify Italy under the House of Savoy, to launch Simonini's career. This time frame allowed him to write about Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily and the first time Simonini forges documents that affect history under the tutelage and on the payroll of Savoy officials. Because he is fairly inept at killing people, however, he is forced to flee to France, which he prefers anyway, and make his living there as a seller of consecrated hosts for Black Masses and as a forger of wills and other documents. Great guy. But he continues his career as a provider of documents for the secret services of France and Russia, finally able to indulge his hatred of the Jews in the production of the Protocols.
With the exception of Garibaldi and one or two minor characters, every other character in this book , fictional and real, ranges from irritating to unlikeable to repulsive. However, thanks to utterly outstanding writing, really clever plotting, great portrayals of historical figures who come alive through the story, and above all, Eco's masterful grasp and use of the history of the period, the book itself is absorbing and at times gripping. As always, with his books, Eco leaves me rather shaken at the depth of the cynicism that fuels politics.
Eco is never an easy read but always, always a rewarding one. Highly recommended....more
Gianrico Carofiglio writes in what can be called the legal thriller genre. An Italian who lives in Bari, on Italy's southeast Adriatic coast, he was aGianrico Carofiglio writes in what can be called the legal thriller genre. An Italian who lives in Bari, on Italy's southeast Adriatic coast, he was a prosecutor in Bari's anti-Mafia section. I've always thought that a book written from that perspective would be fascinating.
In his previous books, the legal aspects have been prominent, and his court scenes have been a significant part of the plot. But his books have always focused on the protagonist, Guido Guerrieri, a defense lawyer in Bari. The plots have been significant but Guerrieri, a moody, somewhat insecure, intensely introspective character, has been equally as important to the story line. In this book however, the plot is very thin--a judge who is an acquaintance of Guido's is accused of corruption and hires Guerrieri for his defense. There is some legal action, and it's interesting, but the story line serves as a framework for what could be called a combination of character study, philosophical treatise on the ethics of the law, reflections on childhood and adolescence, and a very gentle love story. In less skilled hands, this would be a recipe for boredom. But Carofiglio masterfully weaves all these components into a fascinating and thoughtful narrative. He has no lack of a sense of humor and irony, and these traits leaven the story; I laughed out loud at some parts.
One of the most enjoyable experiences of reading Carofiglio is the way he introduces characters that can't even be called minor ones; they appear once in the story for maybe a page, usually less, but are totally entertaining. For example, early on we meet a well-know lawyer who unashamedly visits brothels, choosing them on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis of quality for the price. which is why he was caught up in a police raid, and brought along into the very court where he serves as a defense attorney along with the prostitutes, pimps, and other lowlife characters associated with such places. Is he ashamed? far from it--he actually struts down the hall towards the courtroom. Maybe four paragraphs, but beautifully written in such a way to give life to not only the lawyer but even a narrow slice of what it's like to Iive in Bari (how else do you get to know that there are brothels that are strictly ethnically staffed, such as the Slovak one frequented by this lawyer?). It's fascinating.
At 48, Guido himself is an absorbing character, and his introspection covers an amazing range, from memories of his childhood and adolescence sand their impact on him to agonizing decisions over questions of morality and ethics in the law. He has boxed since youth; part of his charm is that he has a heavy punching bag, Mr. Bag, hanging from the ceiling of his living room (which is otherwise lined with books), in whom he confides his deepest insecurities. Guido does not really change or develop in the normal sense throughout the course of the books; rather, he deepens, and his introspection carries him to different levels of awareness. It is, again, an absorbing journey.
I've read all of his previous books in excellent English translation.s But now I live in Sicily and while I am by no means even nearly fluent in Italian, I can read it with the help of my trusty translator program. I've decided to read mostly in Italian to help improve my ability in the language, so when I ran across this book while browsing in my favorite bookstore, I bought it, thinking that I would combine duty with pleasure. And I was right--it was a pleasure to read. Since even with a translation program I wasn't able to understand all of it ( understood perhaps 95%), guessing at the rest, I intend to buy the book in English translation when it comes out, just to pick up on what I've missed and to see how Carofiglio's human translator handles the story.
This book does not slot easily into any particular genre. At heart, it is the journey of an observant, intelligent, far-from-perfect, likable human being. It's worth reading for that alone. I have a Sicilian friend who wants to read the book; given her political views and the situation in Italy at this moment she will find Guerrieri's observations on the Italian justice system more than intellectually interesting. For those of us used to North American systems, the Italian system is quite different in that there are no jury trials.