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Reading our way around Sicily


It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a chain of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – all starting from a book suggested by Kate.

This month, our starting inspiration is Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, a mix of love story and horror, where an incident under water is threatening to destroy a marriage.

This Armfield novel immediately made me think of Siracusa by Delia Ephron, a book I thoroughly enjoyed while exploring Siracusa on my visit last year.

In this novel, Ephron introduces us to two married couples, each with their own marital issues, who take a trip together to Rome and Siracusa. The beautiful locations don’t bring the calm they may have hoped for, and the attraction and danger of water plays an important dramatic role as the story approaches its conclusion.

Now that we are in Sicily, I think it’s time to take a look at the impact of the mafia on life here, with the help of Mimi Mollica’s Terra Nostra.

This excellent black and white photo essay, makes us see and feel the scars left by the mafia. It is not a story of visible crime with its blood and gore, but one of the impact on the culture and social life on this island. The excellent introduction by Roberto Scarpinato guides us through the story and there are explanatory captions at the back of the book.

Next, we’ll go for for one by Leonardo Sciascia, an author who gets a mention of praise in Scarpinato’s introduction to Terra Nostra.

In Equal Danger (by Leonardo Sciascia, translated by Adrienne Foulke), we have a story of crime and questionable justice. The country where the story is based may not be named, but it is clearly set in the author’s homeland, Sicily.

This is not a classic crime story, it is a more serious and concerning look at politics and loyalties. It seems that Inspector Rogas is the only person actually moving in pursuit of truth and justice. I’d describe it as a heavy read, but it’s short and interesting.

Not straying far, we’ll now pick up Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb.

Here we have more mafia and more crime, but we also have history, art, literature and food. The trial of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, for alleged Mafia involvement, sets the story going, but the author’s clear love of the country comes through to keep up the spirits of the reader. I learned a lot and enjoyed the read.

The steps so far have been rather heavy going, so now we’ll move on to a more light-hearted investigation, with Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano.

Here we meet an eccentric half-Bavarian, half-Italian woman who moves from Germany to Sicily to enjoy her retirement. It is hard not to like Auntie Poldi. Most of the people she meets also enjoy her company, making this an easy-to-read book. at first I found some of the language and sense of humour irritating but I soon settled into it. Much of the introduction of the characters and background to the story is narrated by Poldi’s nephew, and I would have preferred Poldi herself to have told more of the story. That said, I did enjoy my page-turning visit to Poldi’s Sicily, even if I didn’t learn much.

Needless to say, I’m staying in Sicily for my last book choice. There were many good books that I could have chosen, but it had to be Montalbano (he does pop up a lot in my reading lists). This time it is the final book in the series: Riccardino by Andrea Camilleri.

Andrea Camilleri (1925-2019) planned for the finale of this oh-so-popular series well before his own death. Back in 2005, after writing just nine books in the series, he wrote Riccardino and requested his publisher to keep the book back until he himself had died.

Camilleri kept going for another 14 years and wrote another twenty Montalbano books in that time. Perhaps to reflect the growth of the characters, he revisited the Riccardino manuscript in 2016, though it seems he actually left most of it intact. All of this is explained in his two Author’s Notes to the book.

There are many references to Montalbano’s TV fame, adding to the humour of the book. Camilleri himself, referred to as “the author”, makes a few appearances himself. We almost end up with three Montalbanos, the real one, the book one and the tv one. It certainly adds some extra intrigue.

I am not going to tell you more than that, as I really don’t want to spoil the last of the series for you.

I hope my chain of six book prompts a good read or two for you, and maybe encourages you to book your tickets and head over to Sicily.
Next month we’ll be setting off from Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang.

Note: Most of my links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of the income to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way.



Copyright Debbie Smyth, 7 April 2022

Posted as part of Six Degrees

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