Sun and sorrow in Sicily

Grief and light
Forfatter: Maike Albath
Forlag: Berenberg Verlag (Tyskland)
SICILY / The South Italian family is still a powerful institution. It slides seamlessly into the mafia's power structure, with its familismo amoral. The family is the law – not the social institutions.


"For everything to remain as it is, everything must change."

This famous literary quote from an equally famous novel has created the concept gattopardism: to pretend that you want change to maintain the status quo. Then the author of The Leopard (The leopard) died, had he not released anything. First Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896–1957) never experienced his own world fame. His manuscript was rejected twice by publishers, and only thanks to Lampedusa's steadfast widow saw this extraordinary documentation of a society in disintegration.

The action takes place in Sicily in conjunction with Italy's Risorgimento - the movement for a united Italy, led by Army Chief Giuseppe Garibaldi. The author delivers himself and his with all the insights and sensuality his life gave him. He was a child of his time, an aristocratic day driver who could rely on the notion that making money was something unfinished, something for the servant. Thus, he could devote himself entirely to the study of culture, language and literature. When he saw the bombing of the Palermo family palace in 1943, the shock inspired him to start his reminderproject: to write down everything that disappeared before his eyes. Sadly, he experienced neither his own success with leopards or Luchino Visconti's spectacular 1963 filmmaking.

Demonstration against Matteo Salvini In August.
Demonstration against Matteo Salvini In August. Photo: Truls Lie

Grief and light

Maike Albath, award-winning German literary critic and Italian expert, wanders through Sicily's literary and political landscape in the book Grief and light (Grief and light). She gives plenty of room to the phenomenon of Lampedusa and at the same time to the fact that literature on this secluded piece of Italy, invaded and conquered from so many sides throughout history, has a special significance. A find-yourself project on everyone's behalf; something another of Sicily's great writers worked in writing as well as in life: Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) is considered one of the 20th century's greatest dramatists and received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1934. His background from the mining environment could hardly stand in greater contrast to Lampedusa's noble cocoon and naturally led him into the genre of social realism.

"The most revolutionary thing you can do in Sicily is to follow the law and punish the criminals." Judge Giovanni Falcone

Pirandello's youthful enthusiasm for Mussolini's fascism must be seen in the context of the state of dissolution and the need for the strong man. He later distanced himself clearly Il Duce.

Maike Albath describes a man who according to himself succeeded in the subject, but not in life. He was productive and innovative – made scandal first and then broke success with the play Six people are seeking a writer (performed at the National Theater in Oslo 1967, directed by Ingmar Bergman).

His privacy, on the other hand, was a troubled history. His wife, the mother of their three children, was sickly jealous and, according to a family council, was permanently admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

Which brings Albath to the woman's position in an archaic, male-dominated society. In the 1900th century, low-status women could work in the factory or as servants; where society needed them. But in marriage – which had to happen by the age of 25 – women, whether noble or proletarian, were subject to the husband in one and all. They were literally trapped. The home became their only domain where they could exert their influence. The overprotective, possessive mother was the result. The southern Italian family was – and is – a powerful institution. It also slides seamlessly into the mafia's power structure, with its familismo amoral. The family – not the social institutions – is the law.

Mafia theme

The highly regarded author Leonardo Sciascia (1921–1989) of Palermo was among the first to address the mafia theme. In 1961 the book was published The Day of the Owl (Owl's Day). It analyzed the link between politics and organized crime at a time when both the church and the Sicilian government denied the existence of the mafia.

The book became an international success and has gradually been sold in over one million copies. Albath quotes him as saying: "One of the most obvious and biggest defects in Italian society is the lack of memory. Perhaps it comes from the fact that it had to include so much and therefore fades, disappears into fog. "

From the Cathedral In Syracuse's Old Town Ortigia. (Cattedrale Metropolitana Della Natività Di Maria)
From the Cathedral In Syracuse's Old Town Ortigia. (Cattedrale Metropolitana Della Natività Di Maria) Photo: Truls Lie

Sciascia's fatalistic pessimism also got him on a collision course with Judge Giovanni Falcone when it came to the relationship with the mafia. Falcone became widely known after he put 1980 Sicilian mafia bosses behind bars in the 360s. His motto was: “The Mafia is a historical phenomenon that is emerging and will end. There is no tendency in the Sicilian soul. "He also stated that" the most revolutionary thing one can do in Sicily is to follow the law and punish the criminals. "

Cosa Nostra tweeted on May 23, 1992, blasting Falcone and later his colleague Paolo Borsellino into the air. It became a turning point in the passive attitude of the population, and from now on it was called "enough is enough". Thus arose the historical turning point Falcone advocated – and for which he paid for with his life.

The publisher Elvira Sellerio from Palermo once said in a television interview: "Since Sicily is an island, it seems to be particularly good at storytelling. The reality here is always a novel (...), but the reality always transcends these narratives. Sicily has a mythical dimension, one that cannot be dissolved, something mysterious. Something antique. ”

Maike Albath skillfully and elaborately strides between the authors' personalities and their fictional presentations with the spirit of the time as historical backdrop. Always with equal share of objectivity and devotion to Sicily's fateful character. It gives great reading pleasure.

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