By Erika Suban
A book can take you to a place where you have never been. If this place is Sicily, you will most certainly want to go there and discover all its beauty in person. The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea has stunning beaches, picturesque small towns and a very delicious cuisine that attracts more people every year. Even the world’s rich and famous are invited here annually by Google, and arrive by private jets or luxury yachts, to discuss the world’s future.
Instead of reading a travel guide, the best way to get to know this spectacular destination before the actual trip is to choose a novel written about Sicily by a Sicilian.
The Clue to Everything
The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who traveled through Italy in 1788 when he was 37 years old, wrote: “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, as Sicily is the clue to everything.” Considering that Italy at that time was not even unified, It’s hard to believe that Sicily could have been the clue to understand the country. And still, to a foreigner, its heart was in Sicily, where couscous is a dish consumed as in Northern Africa, where the famous mathematician Archimedes of ancient Greece was born, where greek column and roman mosaics and orthodox monasteries and baroque churches stand side by side, surrounded by rugged coastline, mountains, an active volcano, wild colorful flowers and the most scented lemon trees.
Even the Vikings were here, and the King of Spain ruled it for 200 years. There’s been so many invasions and changes that Sicilians learned that nothing last forever. Or, as they say, “Bon tempu e malu tempu, nun dura tuttu tempu(Good weather and bad weather don’t last forever)”.
Sicily is so rich in history and so diverse, that a good book can be the key to understand it. Or to simply understand that it’s not possible to define it.
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” is one of the best introductions to Sicily. It was published after his death and has since been recognized as a masterpiece of political fiction.The novel takes place during Giuseppe Garibaldi’s invasion of the island around 1860, when the aristocracy struggled to survive through big social changes and was trying to maintain its feudal power. “For things to remain the same, everything must change” states the main character. Complex, unpredictable and fascinating. So Sicilian!
I Malavoglia: The House by the Medlar Tree
From a different point a view, Giovanni Verga, as a realist writer, describes the hard life of the lower class on rural Sicily, specifically of a family of fishermen who fight with daily deprivations, difficulties and suffering. There seems to be no hope, and no point in fighting against faith. “I Malavoglia” illustrates how life was on the island in 1880, exactly when the first significant wave of Sicilian immigrants to the United States began. Of the 4.5 million Italians that immigrated to the United States between the years 1880 and 1930, one of every four was a Sicilian.
One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand
Luigi Pirandello moved from Agrigento’s countryside to the city of Palermo when he was 13 year old, and discovered quite early in life the many faces of his homeland. He could have been many things at the same time: apolitical, devoted to Mussolini and against fascism. No wonder that in 1926 he wrote a novel “One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand” where contradictions are everywhere, between social appearances and reality, between imagination and reason, between conformism and expectation, between the mask and the real self. And no wonder he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934.
The Shape of Water
Andrea Camilleri was born in Porto Empedocle, in the province of Agrigento in 1925. He wrote many historical novels, but it was only when he reached the age of 70 that he became really famous worldwide. His first book about Sicilian detective Salvo Montalbano, “The Shape of Water’, was then published and became quickly a best seller. (No relation to the novel and movie of the same name by Guillermo del Toro.) This was the first in a series of detective novels that have been translated in more than 30 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.
Today’s Sicily is very much alive in Camilleri’s books. Italian politics and mafia business, current issues such as immigration and love are all part of the story, but Sicily and the small town of Porto Empedocle are really its main character. Even if he decided to change the name of the story’s location to a fictional Vigata, everybody knows that he was always describing his hometown. It’s here where you can find a statue dedicated to Inspector Montalbano, the beautiful landscape of Scala dei Turchi and where many fans of the now deceased writer (and of the tv show that made the series even more popular) travel every year to see a special Sicily.