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The Leopard
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1001 Monthly Group Read > October {2016} Discussion -- THE LEOPARD by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

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Charity (charityross) Discussion time!


Rita Haley | 4 comments Just got it from the library so have read little so far. If you want short sentences, easy to read text, this book is probably not for you. I find it beautifully written.

Thank goodness the translator provided some historical background. So when the author states "The Paul Neyron roses, whose cuttings he had himself bought in Paris, had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julys, they had changed into things like flesh-colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense, almost indecent, scent," I get that this is likely a metaphor for the French governing Palermo. Did the author assume that the readers of the book would know Italian history of the prior century?

Looking forward to reading others' reactions.


message 3: by George P. (last edited Oct 19, 2016 09:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 1064 comments Mod
Rita wrote: "I get that this is likely a metaphor for the French governing Palermo. Did the author assume that the readers of the book would know Italian history of the prior century?"

I think his expectation of his readers is that they would be mainly Italians in the 20th century, so he probably expected that of most of them.

I just started reading today, no copy was available at libraries by me 'til now. I enjoyed the old Italian film of it, but of course the printed page is something different. I've already had to look a couple words up in the dictionary, so I expect there will be more of that; it's certainly not simple prose. Until this year I had never read a book by an Italian writer, and this year I have also read the Italians Pirandello and Eco. Perhaps I will like this best of the three.


Amanda Dawn | 159 comments Just finished the book a couple of days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I must say it turned out to be entirely different than what I was expecting. When I read what it was about, I imagined it was going to be this war epic about Garibaldi's army and the battles of the Italian Unification (which I was excited for because it is a period of history I don't know a lot about) through the perspective of a character from the nobility.

Instead, it's more of a story of an aging noble walking through his estate and ruling village musing on the changing nature of his world, and the interpersonal stories of those in the family. There a a LOT of extended poetic metaphors (as mentioned in an above comment) about the geopolitical situation in the book that were dreamy and made for beautiful prose, but make for a more difficult read in extracting the historical events out of these sentences instead of directly reading about them.

None the less, it was a beautiful and enjoyable book, particularly in how it explores the mentality of an older generation having to confront the inevitability of a new era with different values and ways of life, and coping with the loss of station and purpose as a noble family. I also really appreciated the moral complexity of the book in portraying all factions of the conflict, where neither side is shown as inherently right and just.


message 5: by Nicola (last edited Oct 25, 2016 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nicola | 765 comments I listened to this on audio a year or so ago. It took me a while to identify with it as at first it just seemed to be an entitled and arrogant old noble, bullying his family and watching as his country changed around him and his privileges were curtailed; at somewhere around the halfway point (at the ball) though it established an emotional connection and it didn't let me go. The ending especially was incredibly moving.

Good literature can make you walk in the shoes of someone you would never expect to share anything at all with and show you the threads of humanity that connect us all.

It was a wonderful book although slow and dull (to me) in several places at the start.


message 6: by George P. (last edited Oct 25, 2016 06:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 1064 comments Mod
I'm at about the 30% point in reading The Leopard now. The story hasn't been terribly engaging so far, but I have hopes that it will become more so later on- thanks Nicola for that encouragement. I would still keep reading anyway though, because the writing is so articulate and moving. I've just read this bit:
"Before going to bed Don Fabrizio paused a moment on the little balcony of his dressing room. Beneath lay the shadowed garden, sunk in sleep; in the inert air the trees seemed like fused lead; from the overhanging bell-tower came an elfin hoot of owls. The sky was clear of clouds; those which had greeted the dusk had moved away, maybe towards less sinful places, condemned by divine wrath to lesser penalties." And it's not only the descriptions that are so glowing; the narrative of the Prince's life is also wonderfully lucid.
Also on the positive side, it's not 400 or 500 pages long, but only 200. More books should be this length in my opinion.


George P. | 1064 comments Mod
I'm chipping away at about 5% of it per day, and over half way through now (I guess the 4 other books I'm reading are slowing my pace). I should finish by Nov 8th more or less.
I like how the story stays focused on Prince Fabrizio or his nephew Tancredi, doesn't go off on tangential characters and subplots. Though the dialog is sometimes minimal, the text never strays far from the characters and the story (unlike his countryman Eco's The Name of the Rose). Just occasionally the prose reminds me of Henry James- which is not a good thing- with long sentences with many commas and semicolons.


Rita Haley | 4 comments I'm about 70% through the book. I think the author assumed an educated readership as he not only seemed to assume knowledge of Italian history before there was an Italy, but familiarity with classic literature (e.g., Don Quixote) and film (Battleship Potemkin).

Not having finished the book, I can't be sure, but the following seems to be a major theme: People from all classes are greedy and false, succumbing to evil.

"Nobles were reserved and incomprehensible, peasants explicit and clear; but the Devil twisted them both around his little finger all the same."


message 9: by George P. (last edited Nov 05, 2016 11:59AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George P. | 1064 comments Mod
Hi Rita [& any others]- Looks like this has become more of a buddy read than a group read, which is a shame because I think it's an excellent novel. I don't understand all the Italian history references, but decided to just see what I can pick up and figure out as I go along with minimal background study. I smiled to see that you also caught the reference to the old Russian film Battleship Potemkin- I'm something of an old movie aficianado.
I found it a little jarring when the author made a reference to jet planes about half way through after everything was totally about the 1800s up until then. Did you? There's another reference to the 20th century farther on as well- this was less jarring since it was the 2nd one. I had to remind myself that this wasn't written 100 years ago, it was published the same year as Breakfast at Tiffany's.
I'm about 85% through now and should finish in a 4 or 5 days. My impression of it is as largely a depiction of changing times and their effect on the circumstances of people, along with a portrayal of different interesting characters, primarily Prince Don Fabrizio of course.
The prose is sometimes remarkably beautiful, sometimes overblown though. Here's some I like: "Those were the best days in the lives of Tancredi and Angelica, lives later to be so variegated, so erring, against the inevitable background of sorrow. But of that they were still unaware, in their pursuit of a future which they deemed more concrete than it turned out to be, made of nothing but smoke and wind. When they were old and uselessly wise their thoughts would go back to those days with insistent regret..."


message 10: by Rita (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rita Haley | 4 comments George (and hopefully others of you)
I have finished the book and and agree with the Boxall list creators that it is a book one should read.
I have noticed that reviews that contain "spoilers" are labelled as such and one has to click on continue or more or whatever to see the rest. How does one do this?
George, I found the references to things which did not exist atvthe time the novel is situated entertaining rather than jarring.
Like you I wished I knew more Italian, or to be more specific Sicilian history and more of Sicily's geography, but I bungled along as I found the book to be beautifully written, replete with symbols that added to my understanding, and full of wry, sarcastic humor. There is depth to this novel and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a "deep" read.


message 11: by Bob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob Kaufman (bobkaufman) | 322 comments I am interested in what others think about the choice for the title of the book. What metaphorical picture did the author hope to portray? Prince Fabrizio was the Leopard and it seemed to be a designation passed down in his family from one ruling head to the next. Were leopards once indigenous to Sicily but were dying out? This would add a lot of meaning to the choice by the author. After the Prince died, who do you think took over as the next Leopard?


Laurence | 21 comments I have also read the book (that definitely makes it a group read ;) ) and I loved it. After the first chapter (in which the author tried "to do Ulysses") the story became a moving description of decay and I found the language very beautiful. The ending (with the dog) was sublime.
@Bob: apparently the English translation of the title isn't really correct: "Il gattopardo" is a serval, not a leopard. It is an animal that often appears in South European heraldry - as is the case for the family in this book, so I don't know if it is an actual choice of the author. I loved how the author sometimes described Don Fabrizio as a real leopard/serval, it made the metaphore feel real.


message 13: by Chuck (last edited Jan 10, 2017 06:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chuck | 24 comments When this book came up as the next read I knew I would be visiting Sicily soon, so I saved the read for the trip and I believe it added significantly to the experience. The still very provincial and untouched state of Sicily reflected in The Leopard still rings true for most of the island today. The theme that is hit hard throughout the book is Don Fabrizio's belief that despite the unification of Sicily with Italy and the changing world, Sicily and Sicilians would always be the same. And, that despite his role in Sicilian society as a "Prince", he was royalty in a culture that would never be as elevated and acknowledged to the rest of the world as the rest of Italy. Once I was able to relate to this point - that any of us can have special roles in our personal world, but know we will never be recognized beyond that small world - it gave traction to the story.

As others have noted, despite all the geographic and political/historical detail, it's the beautiful passages that follow Don Fabrizio and his nagging melancholy as the realities of middle age begin to set in. That despite his privilege he experiences a growing awareness that he is no different at heart than the peasants around him, while longing and unable to connect with others - the experience we all can understand of being so a part of a place and a people and still very separate and not understood.


George P. | 1064 comments Mod
Chuck wrote: "When this book came up as next read I knew I would be visiting Sicily soon, so I saved the read for the trip and I believed it added significantly to the experience. The still very provincial and u..."

I enjoyed reading your astute comments, thanks for posting. While I was reading the book, I felt a desire to visit Sicily, so I envy you for doing so.


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