Tyler Jones's Reviews > The Day of the Owl

The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
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's review
Jun 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: crime, italian-literature
Read in February, 2007

The novels of Leonardo Sciascia are case studies of how humans cope within a corrupt society. The society, in his case, was Sicily; ostensibly run by a political and religious elite but in reality controlled by the oldest tradition of organized crime in the western world. Two groups of people exist: those who do wrong and pretend they do no wrong, and those who have been wronged and pretend they have not been wronged. For the average Sicilian turning a blind eye is not a character flaw, it is a survival skill. In this murky world Leonard Sciascia threw beams of light into the darkest corners of human behavior and in great detail described the twisted creatures that scurried for cover.

The most straight forward and powerful of Sciascia's novels was The Day Of the Owl. In its mere one hundred twenty pages we meet an astonishing array of personalities and ideas. The writing is so concentrated as to seem under pressure, especially when Sciascia employs a technique of "disembodied dialogue" (the reader is not told who is speaking, or where the conversation is taking place) which keeps the plot as tight as piano wire while adding an unnerving sense of paranoia tempered by a very dry sense of humour.

Like many great books the novel is far more complex than its very simple story would suggest. The plot itself could not be more stright forward: A small-time contractor who refuses to deal with the mafia is gunned down in a Sicilian town and Captain Bellodi, the intelligent and idealistic head of the local police, attempts to bring his killers to justice. In most settings this doesn't promise to be a very interesting novel, but in the duplicitous and labyrinthine world of mafia-controlled Sicily, it requires nothing less overcoming hundreds of years worth of mistrust and violence.

It is often said that artists seek to find the universal in the particular. Leonardo Sciascia, whose writings were almost exclusively about Sicily, succeeded in expressing both the universal nature of corruption as well as the need to fight against it- even when such a fight will surely be lost. Ultimately there is an uplifting tone to his work even if things don't always go well for his characters.

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