The first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting withThe first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting with the tale "Demotion," I felt the stories begin to deepen. By the time I got to "End Game," p. 121, I was without question back in the master's hands. This seems to me an anomaly in Sciascia's otherwise unusually consistent oeuvre. I'd like to know if the translation is at fault. I don't have a word of Italian, but a couple examples of English phrasing I found laughably bad. I would ask that any GR reader who has Italian to render a verdict on this translation. I'd really like to know what you think. So this is an uneven collection, for whatever the reason, recommended with reservations. However, I do not hesitate to recommend Sciascia's other collections in English. There are two that are fabulous. They are Open Doors, available in US as a Vintage print-on-demand book, and Sicilian Uncles, on Granta Books, a British imprint and not currently in print. Of the novels, my two favorites are To Each His Own and Equal Danger. See my reviews....more
Thoroughly enjoyable. Every ten pages or so resolve themselves in little narrative paradoxes that reminded me of Zen koans. It's not hard to see why HThoroughly enjoyable. Every ten pages or so resolve themselves in little narrative paradoxes that reminded me of Zen koans. It's not hard to see why Hemingway was attracted to it. Moreover, it filled out the Sicilian landscape for me that I was already used to from Sciascia, Pirandello and Verga....more
Leonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, translated here from the Italian by N.S. Thompson, is a collection of four stories/novellas. I have enjoyed everyLeonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, translated here from the Italian by N.S. Thompson, is a collection of four stories/novellas. I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by this man (see my other reviews) but I was apprehensive when I learned that this was a collection of early stories. I worried they might be weak or formative works. Well, they aren’t. They are mature works of fiction, full-fledged “Sciascias” in every sense. There is not a clunker in the bunch. Be advised, however, they do not focus on those topics the author is most famous for: detectives and the mafia; nor do I think they can be called, as the generic description does here, "thrillers."
“The American Aunt” The American Aunt opens in 1943 when the Allies were just about to take the small Sicilian town in which our young narrator lives. The unnamed narrator and his friend get up to all kinds of high-jinks. Then the Americans arrive and the two start hanging around with Tony, a NCO who tells them about the United States. If you’ve done reading of any scope on the Second World War, this is a story for you.
In its fifty pages Sciascia seems to touch on every aspect of the conflict in Sicily. Fascinating is the depiction of the local fascists, among whom the narrator’s father and uncle. The uncle is a shrill and unrepentant layabout. The narrator sells him black market cigarettes at extravagant prices which he resents. The father knows Mussolini has failed in a major way and tosses his fascist insignia onto a neighbor’s roof for safekeeping. He doesn't want it laying about the house. The uncle however will hear none of it. He longs for the days when Mussolini kept Italy “respected in the world” but says nothing about the lost war his hero also wanted. The young narrator teases him mercilessly. The narrator is thrilled by the Americans. His view of what has happened in Italy is free from patriotic fascist claptrap.
Then the war ends and into this setting comes his mother’s sister, the eponymous american aunt. The aunt was born in the same poor small town in which her sister and the narrator still live. The aunt has a store somewhere in Brooklyn. She is rich by comparison with her Sicilian relatives. And she let’s everyone know just how rich she is. Her unquestionably generous gifts come at a price: a shrill and persistent bossiness. For in the end the aunt is the same small-minded provincial she's always been. The action is compressed, vivid and fast moving. The cries from the disillusioned uncle remind one of a wounded lion gone into the bush to die. I won’t give away the kicker. This is a wonderful story.
“The Death of Stalin” Like most Americans of my generation I have often found the historical popularity of Stalin perplexing. That he was ever seen in congenial terms, that he ever had millions upon millions of admirers seems incredible. That he is still held in awe by many people today is nauseating. This story shows how a group of village socialists in Sicily deluded themselves into thinking Stalin was a hero. Calogero is enamoured of Stalin, views him as a good person concerned with the fate of the worker. It becomes clear, in the context offered by fascist Mussolini and his black shirts, why Calogero so readily embraces “Uncle Joe.” Calogero is himself enormously loyal and kind, but he has suffered:
...All the poor who believed in hope, used to call him ‘Uncle Joe,’ as they had once done Garibaldi. They used the name ‘uncle’ for all the men who brought justice or vengeance, the hero or the capomafia: the ideal of justice always shines when vindictive thoughts are decanted. Calogero had been interned [under Mussolini], his comrades there had instructed him in doctrine, but he couldn’t think of Stalin as anything other than an ‘Uncle’ who could arm for a vendetta and strike decisively a baccagliu, that is, in the slang of all Sicilian ‘Uncles’....
The story is set in a small Sicilian village during the war in which we see how the local socialists, whose mouthpiece is Calogero, rationalize Stalin’s behavior, his inaction and his actions, during that war.
” 'Forty-Eight’ ” This is a story of the revolution of 1848 as it affected the Sicilian town of Castro, specifically the household of Baron Garziano. The narrator is the son of the Baron’s gardener and Sunday coachman, Master Carme. The Baron is married to a dessicated, overly pious woman, Donna Concettina, whom he betrays with the wife of one of his workers, a harmless fellow called Pepé. The Baron has the kind Pepé hauled off to prison so fornication with his unfaithful wife won’t be inconveniently interruptus. There is a hilarous scene in which the shrewish Donna Concettina catches the Baron inside the apartment of Mrs. Pepé. Donna Concettina bangs on the mistress’s door with a rock. Only Sciascia could have written it.
Then the revolution begins in earnest and the Baron’s cowardice knows no bounds. He cowers from what he clearly views as the just rage of the populace. He has Master Carme answer the door. It’s pure tumult: with the King’s intendent and judge returning from their flight to now feel some sympathy for the liberals’ (revolutionaries’) positions. At one point all the local liberals are released from jail where they had been held for some time. The Baron sees his tidy world turned upside down. There’s a brief period of cooperation. Somehow the local Bishop has been able to create an assembly comprised aristocracy, clergy, and peasantry. How can this possibly work? It can’t. The social rift is too yawning a chasm.
Soon several local socialists are dead, murdered in the streets, which may the purpose for which they were released. Donna Concettina will no longer speak with the Baron who must exchange comments via a third party, sometimes Master Carme. Sciascia is able to give a sense of how the revolution happened in rural Sicily. We see the political forces come into play, but at the same time the story verges on high-grade farce.
“Antimony” This final story of the collection, set during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), is narrated by one of the unemployed Italians that fascist Bennito Mussolini has sent to Franco. In Spain the poor tended to be Republicans (Communists, Anarchists, Socialists, etc.). The tragedy here is that Italy has sent its own poor to fight on the side of Franco and the fascist Falange. The story seeks to question and inform the reader about the role of Italy in the Spanish Civil War. It does so brilliantly.
Leonardo Sciascia writes rereadable thrillers, loaded with action and existential angst. There is no one quite like him. In Equal Danger Detective RogLeonardo Sciascia writes rereadable thrillers, loaded with action and existential angst. There is no one quite like him. In Equal Danger Detective Rogas is put on a case meant to solve the serial killings of a number of judges and district attorneys. Rogas very methodically tracks down his man. It's a simple operation but with its own peculiar logic. He stakes out the man's house, but his plainclothesmen promptly "lose" the suspect. Rogas speculates that his man, Cres, simply walked away from the house without any knowledge of the stakeout. In other words, Rogas has been countermanded by higher ups who for political reasons wish to pin the crimes on others.
When a fifth man is killed, another DA, Rogas's boss takes him off of the case entirely and assigns him to the Political Section. It is after all 1971 in a state very much like Italy. This is a time of dime-a-dozen revolutionaries, the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse) terrorist faction most famous for the assassination of former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro, etc.
Detective Rogas is told by his new boss in the Political Section to be somewhere for certain undeclared purposes. He realizes he's been double-crossed when he walks right into a cosy evening gathering of the same revolutionaries he has been told to investigate in the Political Section and their friends, various high-level government ministers. Thus we see the obstacles Rogas is facing. They are systemic. How can one arm of the government be investigating the very people who are friends and acquaintances of high-level ministers? Meanwhile Cres is at large and the murders go on. This is very Sciascia. To take one police problem and to study it until a far larger problem is exposed. The writing is hyper compressed and the story tics by in 119 pages.
There's an almost Nabokovian high style that Sciascia employs that I've never come across in his work before. (I don't think this is a peculiarity of the translation, it's too consistent to be so, though I yield to native Italian speakers on the matter.) Sciascia seems to me a writer of tremendous tonal range, and here he is applying these skills to what on the surface appears to be a rather formulaic detective yarn. It isn't, of course.
My favorite passage comes in the last third of the book. Detective Rogas decides to visit the head of the State Supreme Court, President Riches, whom he believes is or will soon be a target of Cres. Sitting before Riches he expounds upon his theory of Cres's revenge. Cres, Rogas believes, was the victim of judicial error. He was convicted and served five years for an attempted murder of his wife that was staged by her. President Riches will simply not hear it. What follows is his fascinating disquisition on the infallibility of the judiciary. Citing Voltaire's essay "Treatise on Tolerance: On the Occasion of the Death of Jean Calas," President Riches comes up with an argument that must be read (and reread) to be believed. His model is the Catholic Church's doctrine of papal infallibility!
This is the Norton Critical Edition. Robert M. Adams's translation has his invaluable notes. No other edition has these notes which are concise and exThis is the Norton Critical Edition. Robert M. Adams's translation has his invaluable notes. No other edition has these notes which are concise and explain all the personalities and military exploits which inform Machiavelli's narrative. So one is able to see what clarity Machiavelli brought to his task. He lays out his rules for a prince and then marshalls pertinent examples. Augmenting the classic text is a section called "Backgrounds" which are selections of other Machiavelli writings. There is some correspondence from the time he served as Florentine diplomat to the court of the rapacious Cesare Borgia, illegitimate son of Pope Julius II. ...more