Joyce Lagow's Reviews > The Day of the Owl

The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
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Jul 28, 15

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Read in August, 2009

The Day of the Owl[return]Leonardo Sciascia[return][return]A Sicilian, thinks Captain Bellodi, of the Carabinieri, doesn t really relate that much to the national government; that s just the outside entity that imposes taxes, police, military service. What counts--the only thing that counts--is the family, which defines a Sicilian in much the same way that a contract does between, say an Internet service provider and a client. Such a contract clearly states the rights and responsibilities of each side. This thinks Bellodi, who is from the mainland--from Parma, in central Italy--is the basis of the formal code of behavior that underlies all actions in Sicily, especially those of the mafia.[return][return]So reflects the Bellodi in this short (more a novella than novel), tautly written police procedural. It is a penetrating essay of 1960s Sicily and the almost allegorical human figures who populate the country. Bellodi is an idealistic, cultivated sensitive northerner; he meets his Sicilian counterpart in Don Arena, a mafia boss. These two characters make a whole, in terms of portraying Sicilian society and its effect on Italian politics.[return][return]Sciascia, a Sicilian who was considered one of Italy s foremost post-war writers, was a survivor of Fascist Italy and a critic of Sicilian life in a country he loved. That what he wrote about--the power of the mafia--was dangerous enough is clear from his afterword in which he makes the usual disclaimer that all characters are fictional. But Sciascia goes a big step further by saying that he did not have the freedom to write that most authors usually possess. In books and films, the United States of America can have imbecile generals, corrupt judges, and crooked police. So can England, France...Sweden and so on. Italy has never had, has not and never will have them. He makes it clear that writing about the insidious control the mafia has over Italian life is dangerous.[return][return]It s intriguing to compare Sciascia s story with those of Andrea Camilleri s Inspector Montalbano set in contemporary Sicily. Camilleri s stories occasionally include mafia figures, but he touches lightly if at all on their political influence. Donna Leon s Commissario Brunetti series, set in Venice, does describe the spreading, like a cancer, of the mafia northwards into areas that were previously untouched. But while she writes about corruption in the Italian government, she does so in general terms, more as commentaries by Brunetti and his wife Paula on the state of Italian politics (sick). Even in the era of the post-Milan crackdown on the mafia, both authors write cautiously in that regard.[return][return]That this book was considered an important work is reflected in the fact that is was republished in the US by the New York Review of Books, with an excellent introduction by George Scialabba. Highly recommended.
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