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Books and movies

From Virgil’s Aeneid to Camilleri’s Montalbano

From the arrival in Sicily of Homer’s Odysseus and the references to Erice in relation to the funeral of Aeneas’ father in Virgil’s Aeneid, Sicily has been featured time and time again in some of our leading literature.

Goethe’s Grand Tour of Italy took him to Sicily, notably Palermo, Agrigento and Catania, all featured in the 1828 ‘Journey to Italy’ diary.

Several native Sicilian writers have made their mark on Europe’s literary scene. Giovanni Verga’s (1840-1922) was an Italian realist (Verisimo) writer, whose greatest masterpieces, ‘I Malavoglia’ and ‘Mastro Don Gesualdo’, depicted life on the island.

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was a dramatist, novelist, poet and short story writer, and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934. It is perhaps his play ‘Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore’ (Six characters in search of an author) for which he is best known.

For anyone interested in the history of the island, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel ‘Il Gattopardo’ (The Leopard) is perhaps the most relevant. The novel follows the family of its title character, through the events of the Risorgimento, describing the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy following the rise of the bourgeoisie. Despite being rejected by two publishers while Lampedusa was alive, the novel was published the year after his death, brought to the attention of the Feltrinelli publishing house by writer Giorgio Bassani. The film of Il Gattopardo was made in 1963, directed by Visconti.

The author Dacia Maraini is a highly regarded playwright and novelist, with much of her work focussing on women’s issues. She was the daughter of Sicilian Princess Topazia Alliata di Salaparuta but spent her early years in Fiesole, Florence. She later moved to her mother’s family home in the town of Bagheria, Palermo. Her book ‘Bagheria’ (1993) is her only autobiographical work to date.

The writer Andrea Camilleri (born 1925), originally from Porto Empedocle, Sicily, wrote his first novel in 1978 but in 1994, he published the first of his long and popular series of novels featuring the character of Inspector Montalbano. Set in the fictional town of Vigata, the adaptation of the books for TV has led to extraordinary popularity, in Italy, the UK, Australia and the US.

Other Sicilian authors that are worthy of mention are Elio Vittorini, born in Syracuse, and whose best-known work is the anti-fascist novel Conversations in Sicily; and Leonardo Sciascia whose most famous novel was the 1961 mystery ‘Il Giorno della Civetta’ (The Day of the Owl).

Many of these novels have been made into films, including Verga’s ‘I Malavoglia’ and ‘Il Gattopardo’. Other films of note include ‘Baaria’, a 2009 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, which was the opening film of the 2009 Venice International Film Festival. In 1994, the film Il Postino was set and filmed on the island of Procida in the gulf of Naples and on the volcanic Aeolian Island of Salina.