April 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C
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Bios & Memoirs


Emilio's Carnival (Senilità)

Italo Svevo, born Aron Hector Schmitz, time and again presaged the modern curve.

The Baron in the Trees

Italo Calvino's gift was an adamant refusal to see the planet conventionally.

Little Misunderstandings of No Importance

The late Antonio Tabucchi always wanted it both ways: real and surreal.

The Siren

At his best, the late Dino Buzzati made the magical abut the mundane.

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

In English, "That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana" is an impossible novel — which makes it necessary.

Zeno's Conscience

Italo Svevo's remarkable Zeno Cosini has the pedigree of a 21st-century neurotic.


Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty

Jennifer Clark's careful accounting of Fiat's ups and downs is essential Italy reading.

Street Art Stories – Roma

Tracking Rome street art is a noble cause, but not when words get in the way.

Zero, Zero, Zero

Roberto Saviano's cluttered new book plumbs the depths of cocaine trafficking.

Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

Little written about World War II and southern Italy rivals Lewis' memoir.

The Day of the Owl
By Leonardo Sciascia, translated from the Italian by Archibald Colquhoun and Arthur Oliver
New York Review Books, 1961 (2003). 124 pages

In the vein of most Italian prose critical of politics and politicians, Scascia's slim but ferocious tale of Mafia intrigue and Italian government complicity — Il giorno della civetta — prefers insinuation to indictment, even if the two are tied at the hip and much of the novel's narrative is lifted from countless violent tales recorded in the gossipy Italian press for more than a century.

In the Sicilian coastal town of S., a building contractor is gunned down in front of bus. Whispers suggest a Mafia hit. Soon after, a police informant is also shot dead. When Parma-born Carabinieri Captain Bellodi begins peeling the layers from the tangled Sicilian onion, he gradually also pries opens a Pandora's Box rife with protection money, nicknamed assassins, and pillars of the community who insist the existence of the Mafia is an invention of leftists. Though Bellodi uncovers the truth, it will, like so many previous truths, melt "… like snow" into uselessness — since the underworld is nourished and protected by Rome.

The undeterred but often demoralized Bellodi grows convinced that family is all that counts in the Sicilian conscience, "counts, that is to say, more as a dramatic juridical contract or bond than as a natural association based on affection. The family is the Sicilian state." Later comes a reference to "the great family group that is the Government," squaring the impenetrable circle.

Sicily is a "soap-bubble" world moved by a "language of nudges," a corrupt cauldron with a separate boiling point. Despite all this, stalwart northerner Bellodi remains bewitched by it all, which makes Sciascia's novel a detective story that doubles as a romantic ode to an island and its theater of wickedness.

If you're concerned about the 21st-century relevance of a story written in 1960, don't be. In mid-2012, a key Italian figure expressed worry about "certain aspects of Italian behavior — such as solidarity pushed to the level of collusion." That's exactly what this story is about, and the worrier was Mario Monti.

Reviewed by Book Staff
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.