miércoles, 7 de enero de 2009

The Day of the Owl

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

"'Who is it?' asked the conductor, pointing at the body. No one answered. The conductor cursed. Among passengers of that route he was famous for his highly skilled blaspheming. The company had already threatened to fire him, since he never bothered to control himself even when there were nuns or priests on the bus. He was from the province of Syracuse and had had little to do with violent death: a soft province, Syracuse. So now he swore all the more furiously." (The Day of the Owl, p. 10)

Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) is often described as a crime writer, which I suppose he was, but I get the feeling that that label is as limiting and meaningless as calling Borges a short story writer. In his 124-page novella The Day of the Owl (first published in Italian as Il Giorno della Civetta and also translated into English as Mafia Vendetta), Sciascia does indeed write a story that takes a shocking murder as its starting point--but the mystery has to do with the reasons for the cover-up as much as the solution to the crime itself. The essential details are as follows. In a small Sicilian town, a man is shot dead in the middle of a crowded piazza as he attempts to board an early morning bus. Despite the presence of many potential eyewitnesses, nobody is willing to step forward to explain what they saw for fear of potential mafia retribution. A mainland carabinieri officer temporarily stationed in the area, the wonderfully-drawn Captain Bellodi, attempts to figure out and eventually resolves the motives for the initial killing as well as the subsequent ones that inevitably follow, but both his investigation and the pursuit of justice itself are constantly thwarted by a Sicilian culture that he's only gradually beginning to understand. Bellodi's status as an outsider from Parma allows Sciascia, himself a Sicilian, to comment on the captain's frustrations from both sides of the north-south cultural divide. With prose that is both psychologically astute and often unexpectedly funny, this sociological perspective on Sicily circa 1961 adds an extra dimension to an already-interesting police procedural narrative--making this almost too good to be true in the entertainment department. A splendid read. (http://www.nyrb.com/)

Leonardo Sciascia
(1989 NY Times obituary here)

6 comentarios:

  1. I got a big kick out of your comment, Stefania, but reading more Italian authors this year is actually one of my goals. Feel free to let me know if you have any personal favorites to suggest. Ciao!

    1. I read Sciascia's Il Contesto months ago in Italian (in English it's known as Equal Danger, perhaps to make it sound more thrilling and action-y), and it's very, very good! Satirical, witty, humane. I want to read more by him before the year ends, money willing :)

      If you want to read more Italian writers, let me suggest Antonio Tabucchi, Dario Fo, Primo Levi, Dino Buzzati and Curzio Malaparte - his Kaputt is one of the best World War II novels ever written, and from the perspective of the Axis.

    2. I liked Equal Danger less than the other Sciascia things I've read, Miguel, but I still want to read more by him. Thanks very much for the other recommendations here; I have Buzzati and Levi works (the latter in Italian) in my clutches waiting to be read, but Curzio Malaparte is a brand new name to me. Good to find out about Kaput!

  2. Sounds like a fantastic book.

  3. J. Kaye,

    Yes, it was a great way to start the year reading-wise. Thanks for dropping by. Happy reading!