K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > The Leopard

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
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Mar 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 1001-core, 501, history, europe
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Read from March 02 to 06, 2012 — I own a copy , read count: 1

You have a stable job. You own your house. You drive your own car. Your daughter is studying in an exclusive school. You can buy any book you take fancy on. You can dine at any restaurant anytime. You can buy any clothes you want. In short, you have a comfortable life.

What if all these are taken away from you? Let’s say your company closes shop? What if you are stricken with cancer and you have to spend millions for your operation? What if you run over a man who is crossing the street on one rainy dark evening and you have to spend your savings to pay the dead man’s family? Then insurance company declares bankruptcy?

A rich man's downfall. That’s basically what The Leopard by Giusseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is all about. It tells about the fall of the nobles and aristocrats in Sicily during the latter part of the 19th century. The fall may not be due to a split-second incident like running over a man crossing the street. It is painful and slow and it due to transfer of political power. The novel opens at the start of Giuseppe Giribaldi’s campaign to unify Italy or Risorgimento in 1860 with his Redshirts soldiers, also known as The Thousands. The reunification resulted to the adoption of the Tricolor in their national flag.

This reminded me of Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies which is about the fall of the House of Esterhazy, a Hungarian noble family in Hungary. Somehow I also got reminded of Russia at the crossroad in the two works of Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace and Anna Karenina. and even Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind since it is also about the Southern States being swept in the changing periods of time.

The writing is deft and glorious. I am still mesmerized by the richness of Lampedusa’s prose and the individualness of his characters. Each of his characters contribute to the plot and the sending of his message: that nothing in this world is permanent; even kings cannot be saved by their golds. However, the fall of the noble Salinas family did not stop when its prince, Don Fabrizio Corbera died in 1883. The last chapter called Relics extends the story to the prince’s three old and gray daughters that reminded me of the generation of the Buendia family that last appeared in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Even this falling action has its own theme: that what our forefathers did have some impact or influence to who we are now: as a nation, a community, a family or even as individuals.

The title The Leopard or “Il Gattopardo” (as it was originally published in Italian) was due to the fact that leopard is the family insigna of the Salinas. There is also a scene when the prince, Don Fabricio and the newly rich Don Calogero, whose daughter Angelica will be marrying Don Fabricio’s wayward nephew Prince Tancredi Falconieri, is touring his mansion and in one of the rooms are portraits of different animals.

If you love dogs, the prince has a dog called Bendico who symbolizes the nobility of the family. He is cute and loyal to the prince. To preserve his memory, when he dies, the surviving daughters of the prince take his skin and make a rug out of it. In the later part of the book, one of them throws the rug away. Most dog characters are used as cosmetic but because of the dog’s skin in the last chapter, I’d say that Lampedusa’s use of Bendico as a symbol is just one of the best I’ve read so far.

Giribaldi’s unification did not succeed though. Just like in many transfer of power, it was just from one kind of hand to another: from the hands of the aristocrats to the hands of the middle class, many of whom got new-rich status afterwards. Some years later, the hands transferred to the communists’ hands.

We should always be thankful of what we have. Cherish the people we love. Take care of the things we currently enjoy. For as they say, some good things never last. Even ourselves, we are all just passing through.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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K.D. Absolutely I don't know, Emir. But there must be something out there. :)


B0nnie E. M. Forster wrote (in an introduction to another of Tomasi's books) "The Leopard has certainly enlarged my life - reading and re-reading it has made me realize how many ways there are of being alive." Which to me is the whole point of reading *any* book, and yes indeed The Leopard does that. I loved the ball, where the aging Don Fabrizio dances with Angelica,

"at every twirl a year fell from his shoulders; soon he felt back at the age of twenty, when in that very same ballroom he had danced with Stella before he knew disappointment, boredom, and the rest. For a second, that night, death seemed to him once more “something that happens to others.”


K.D. Absolutely Oh, yes. I love that part too. It's just that I did not like the way I felt while realizing the the old Don Fabrizio is lusting after the young Angelica.

If you are a middle-age man like me, you'd know what I mean haha.


message 4: by Teresa (last edited Mar 09, 2012 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teresa The writing is deft and glorious. I am still mesmerized by the richness of Lampedusa’s prose and the individualness of his characters.

Great to hear this, K.D., as this is why I bought this book, though I haven't read it yet -- one day soon!


K.D. Absolutely T: I am glad you are planning to read this book. You'll never regret this one. :)


message 6: by mark (new)

mark monday i love the movie version.


K.D. Absolutely Lucky you, Mark. I'd like to see that one too. :)


message 8: by mark (new)

mark monday i think you would really like the films of that director (Luchino Visconti). and nice review too, forgot to mention.


K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Mark. One of my favorite classic Italian movies is The Bicycle Thief. :)


message 10: by mark (new)

mark monday if you like Bicycle Thief, you may really like Rocco and His Brothers


message 11: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Mark. I will be looking out for a copy of that. :)


message 12: by Scott (new)

Scott Hey I have a question. Is this book explicit? Moreover, does it have sexually explicit scenes? Thanks!


message 13: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Hi Scott. No, for me, there are no explicit sex scenes. There were some of those but they are not really explicit or graphic. I remember that Don Fabricio is a womanizer and at one point lusts after a very young girl but nothing vulgar in terms of description. My opinion though.


message 14: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy Well KD, I just should have linked to your review. It is excellent!


message 15: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thank you, Judy.


Tom Tabasco Very good review! Such a great novel, and deep ("everything changes so that nothing changes"). I'm Italian and it's ironic to reflect on Garibaldi and his glorious mission to unify Italy, in these days when, 150 years later, Italian politics are such a disaster. 1860 was far too soon to try and create an Italian nation. Too long a history of fragmented interests, provincial divisions, but most importantly - no principle whatsoever to justify the unification (if not perhaps the boot-shaped geography?). No common enemy and no common history - that's why Italian identity is still relatively weak in 2013, and the local identities are still very strong. Sicily in particular. Having said that, The Leopard is such a master work that it rises above that piece of history and speaks with authority to universal audiences.


message 17: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Tabasco. I am glad that you are proud of this book. It is one of the most memorable Italian books (or books about Italy) that I've every read.


Francesc Figueras To me the book addresses death, the pass of time, the decline we all face at some point.


message 19: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Francesc wrote: "To me the book addresses death, the pass of time, the decline we all face at some point."

I agree, Francesc. That's a good take on this book. Thanks.


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