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Leonardo Sciascia was an outstanding and controversial presence in twentieth-century Italian literary and intellectual life. Writing about his native Sicily and its culture of secrecy and suspicion, Sciascia matched sympathy with skepticism, unflinching intellect with a street fighter's intransigent poise. Sciascia was particularly admired for his short stories, and The Wi Leonardo Sciascia was an outstanding and controversial presence in twentieth-century Italian literary and intellectual life. Writing about his native Sicily and its culture of secrecy and suspicion, Sciascia matched sympathy with skepticism, unflinching intellect with a street fighter's intransigent poise. Sciascia was particularly admired for his short stories, and The Wine-Dark Sea offers what he considered his best work in the genre: thirteen spare and trenchant miniatures that range in subject from village idiots to mafia dons, marital spats to American dreams. Here, in unforgettable form, Sciascia examines the contradictions—sometimes comic, sometimes deadly, and sometimes both—of Sicily's turbulent history and day-to-day life.


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Leonardo Sciascia was an outstanding and controversial presence in twentieth-century Italian literary and intellectual life. Writing about his native Sicily and its culture of secrecy and suspicion, Sciascia matched sympathy with skepticism, unflinching intellect with a street fighter's intransigent poise. Sciascia was particularly admired for his short stories, and The Wi Leonardo Sciascia was an outstanding and controversial presence in twentieth-century Italian literary and intellectual life. Writing about his native Sicily and its culture of secrecy and suspicion, Sciascia matched sympathy with skepticism, unflinching intellect with a street fighter's intransigent poise. Sciascia was particularly admired for his short stories, and The Wine-Dark Sea offers what he considered his best work in the genre: thirteen spare and trenchant miniatures that range in subject from village idiots to mafia dons, marital spats to American dreams. Here, in unforgettable form, Sciascia examines the contradictions—sometimes comic, sometimes deadly, and sometimes both—of Sicily's turbulent history and day-to-day life.

30 review for The Wine-Dark Sea

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    Giufa has been living in Sicily since Arabian times. In the script of that period his name appeared as a small, crested bird, its tail stuck straight up in the air and a grape in its beak. A thousand years later, Giufa still shambles along the roads, ageless like all simpletons and up to all kinds of mischief. 4 1/2 rounded up because of my typical disinterest in short stories. I found these easy and pleasurable to get through. the author Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) was a writer of novels, essays Giufa has been living in Sicily since Arabian times. In the script of that period his name appeared as a small, crested bird, its tail stuck straight up in the air and a grape in its beak. A thousand years later, Giufa still shambles along the roads, ageless like all simpletons and up to all kinds of mischief. 4 1/2 rounded up because of my typical disinterest in short stories. I found these easy and pleasurable to get through. the author Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) was a writer of novels, essays, short stories and plays. Several Italian films have been based on his fiction, including Il giorno della civetta (1968; The Day of the Owl), Cadaveri Eccellenti (1976; Illustrious Corpses), and Porte Aperte (1990; Open Doors). Starting in his mid-50s, for about a decade Sciascia also held various elected offices in Palermo, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and the European Parliament, as a member of the Communist Party and later the Radical party. (view spoiler)[ The surname – four letters repeated twice – strikes me as highly unusual. Scia means “wake” (as a boat’s wake) or “trail”. (hide spoiler)] the NYRB edition has an Introduction by Albert Mobilio, and a brief afterward by the author, in which he explains how the collection came to be published in 1973. The stories are presented in the order in which they were written, in the period 1959-1972. Three in particular were, by that time, hard to find – these being “A Matter of Conscience”, recently made into a film, and two stories which had been adapted for television, “End Game” and “The Long Crossing”. Sciascia notes that the collection seems to form, “collectively, a kind of summary of my work up to now”. The cover design of this edition is based on a painting by a noted Italian painter, Renato Gutusso, also born in Sicily, who in fact shared many social and political views with the author. I particularly like it because it reminds me of flora I saw on a walk along the ocean cliffs between three cities of the Cinque Terra in 2007. Cactus sul golfo di Palermo, Renato Gutusso, 1978 the Sicilian connection Sciascia was a Sicilian first and Italian second, from what I have gathered. The stories in this collection are all set primarily in Sicily - perhaps one or two do not have any particular setting that I was able to recognize. I’m certain that a reader who knows more about Sicily than I do would see many connections to Sicilian land and culture that I never caught. A couple stories started with a long, arduous journey from Rome to Sicily. It was nearly 24 hours, a long train ride, ferrying of the train cars over the Strait of Messina, then resumption of the train ride to whatever final destination on the island. This seems likely to have been a journey that the author took many times, though certainly air connections have existed for decades. The Mafia are mentioned in several stories, which indicates not only the prominent role that organization has played in Sicily, but also that the violence and corruption connected to them and their internecine warfare was one of the author’s greatest political concerns. As for the land of Sicily itself, the seas surrounding it, and the prominent beauty of these natural gifts, Sciascia is relatively non-committal. With the partial exception of the title story, he is much more concerned with people, and with the social environment resulting from human interactions. the stories Most of the thirteen stories in the collection employ a third person narrator. A couple exceptions use all dialogue, or quotations from letters. Some are small mysteries, which have the unusual feel that the narrator too is keen to see the outcome, even as the story is being related. A word I thought of more than once was “curious”. There’s something different about Sciascia’s stories, hard to put into words – and even if I tried, they would be words dissimilar to another reader’s words, even as that other reader admitted this curious feel to the stories. The title story, at about forty pages much the longest, tells of an engineer taking that previously mentioned long train ride from Rome into Sicily, sharing a compartment with three adults, two of whom are the parents of two young boys. The third adult, “attached to the others by ties of family, friendship or casual acquaintance, was a girl of about twenty-three, rather colorless at first sight and clad in a severely simple dress of black edged with white. The children never left her alone…” The engineer, a good-natured man in his late thirties, finds himself, somewhat against his wishes, drawn into conversation with the parents, the girl (whom he slowly becomes oddly attracted to once he observes her talking and interacting with the children), and even the young boys themselves, who are not very well behaved. The strange arc of the quickly progressing interrelations between the engineer and the others forms the story, a story which appears headed to an improbable conclusion, which turns into one most probable after all, as the travelers reach their destination. This sort of ending-with-a -thud, a reassertion of reality onto the back end of a story which seemed almost a fairly-tale (or a folk tale), appears frequently in the collection. But these stories are each concluded in a different manner, so this reader at any rate, always one to give himself up to an author’s easy manipulation, was (at worst) at least somewhat surprised at the particular twist that Sciascia applied. One of the TV adaptations mentioned above, “End Game”, is another story in which the reader shares one of the main character’s confusion over what is happening. This is so finely wrought that I find it impossible to even describe the story in a simple manner than would not ruin it for a reader. I found sudden thoughts of Jorge Borges sneaking into my consciousness. These thoughts had already occurred when I read an earlier story, “Giufa”. The quote at the top of the review its first two sentences. It’s a tale is about the time that Giufa killed a cardinal “and got away with it either by sheer cunning or sheer stupidity: for the two are closely allied, and Giufa, stupid as he was, could also be extremely cunning.” The cardinal in question was one of the church-prelate species, also referred to in the story as “His Eminence”. Other stories include “Philology”, a very curious (that word again!) story about the etymology of the word mafia, a dialogue between a lawyer coaching his client for an upcoming testimony; and “Apocryphal Correspondence re Crowley”, letters passing between a Chief of Police and His Excellency Benito Mussolini, and reports submitted by the Commissariat of Public Security at Cefalu. We thus read Sciascia's fictive and amusing telling of the 1923 expulsion from Sicily of the English occultist, ceremonial magician, iconic outside-the-box moralist and cult leader Aleister Crowley. Then there’s “A Matter of Conscience” (that film mentioned above) in which a lawyer, on his way home from Rome to Madda (see train ride above) reads in a woman’s magazine (don’t ask) a letter written by an unnamed woman to an advice-giving priest, about an infidelity she committed many years prior, with a relative “who had been a frequent guest at our house”. Tormented by guilt, she wants to know if she should confess to her husband, whom she loves dearly. And the woman is identified as being from Madda!The jubilation that surged within the lawyer’s breast was so intense that it bordered on ecstasy. This letter would provide a topic of conversation for at least a month at the club, among colleagues at the courthouse and within domestic circles. Theories by the hundred would be formulated, numberless private lives – of wives, husbands, wives’ relatives – would be put under the microscope and examined with the keenest curiosity; in some cases, like his own, this curiosity would be detached, almost academic; in others it would be malicious, dedicated to the winkling out of every shred of scandal.And so it transpires. Suspicions build, each new idea or piece of previously confidential information engenders a host of new ideas and suspicions amongst ever shifting collections of the town’s males, together with profound interest, amusement, or dread among these leaders and followers of society. (Hm. Just now I’m reminded of The Scandals of Clochemerle.) This was no doubt made into a pretty amusing movie. judgement Stories by a keen writer, expressing irony, satire, and a wry sense of humor about the human condition. Recommended to lovers of short fiction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Previous review: Organic Marxism public service Random review: Buddenbrooks: Family Life as the Mirror of Social Change a book about the novel Next review: Ready Player One preview Previous library review: The Periodic Table Next library review: La Bodega the Fruit of the Vine

  2. 4 out of 5

    William2

    The first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting with the tale "Demotion," I felt the stories begin to deepen. By the time I got to "End Game," p. 121, I was without question back in the master's hands. This seems to me an anomaly in Sciascia's otherwise unusually consistent oeuvre. I'd like to know if the translation is at fault. I don't have a word of Italian, but a couple examples of English phras The first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting with the tale "Demotion," I felt the stories begin to deepen. By the time I got to "End Game," p. 121, I was without question back in the master's hands. This seems to me an anomaly in Sciascia's otherwise unusually consistent oeuvre. I'd like to know if the translation is at fault. I don't have a word of Italian, but a couple examples of English phrasing I found laughably bad. I would ask that any GR reader who has Italian to render a verdict on this translation. I'd really like to know what you think. So this is an uneven collection, for whatever the reason, recommended with reservations. However, I do not hesitate to recommend Sciascia's other collections in English. There are two that are fabulous. They are Open Doors and Three Novellas, available in US as a Vintage print-on-demand book, and Sicilian Uncles, on Granta Books and not currently in print. Of the novels, my two favorites are To Each His Own and Equal Danger. Please see my reviews.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Better well known in his native Sicily than overseas, Leonardo Sciascia is finally now reaching a broader audience with his short stories on Sicilian life. For the outsider, or anyone who has zero knowledge of his work it's almost like entering a hidden world in the way he opens up on his homeland, and whilst for the most part he deals with real life situations which at times do become quite dark, there is something of a mythical folk-tale feeling to some of his other stories included, which num Better well known in his native Sicily than overseas, Leonardo Sciascia is finally now reaching a broader audience with his short stories on Sicilian life. For the outsider, or anyone who has zero knowledge of his work it's almost like entering a hidden world in the way he opens up on his homeland, and whilst for the most part he deals with real life situations which at times do become quite dark, there is something of a mythical folk-tale feeling to some of his other stories included, which number thirteen in total. I found that they ranged from good to the very good. The pick of the bunch for me were - 'The Long Crossing' 'The Wine Dark Sea' 'End-Game' A Matter of Conscience' and Mafia Western'. This is a great introduction to Sciascia, and I can definitely see myself reading more of his work.

  4. 4 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    Oh, I could easily give this five stars. I'd say it's the most readily accessible of his books that I've read thus far. Short stories, no real room to get Off Topic, these are tight and 'enjoyable', a word that doesn't seem suitable for his books in general. If you are thinking of trying this celebrated Italian author, this really does make sense as the way to start. Dip your toes....into the water of The Wine-Dark Sea. Oh, I could easily give this five stars. I'd say it's the most readily accessible of his books that I've read thus far. Short stories, no real room to get Off Topic, these are tight and 'enjoyable', a word that doesn't seem suitable for his books in general. If you are thinking of trying this celebrated Italian author, this really does make sense as the way to start. Dip your toes....into the water of The Wine-Dark Sea.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Noelle

    The Wine Dark Sea is a collection of Leonardo Sciasia’s best short stories. Sciasia, a Sicilian author who lived from 1921 to 1989, has a writing style that is much more accessible than that of many of his contemporaries such as Umberto Eco or Dino Buzzati. The bulk of these stories were written in the 1960s, and each eloquently speaks to an aspect of the Sicilian way of life and history, such as distrust for outsiders, the Mafia culture, Catholicism, Communism, and the desperation of poverty. S The Wine Dark Sea is a collection of Leonardo Sciasia’s best short stories. Sciasia, a Sicilian author who lived from 1921 to 1989, has a writing style that is much more accessible than that of many of his contemporaries such as Umberto Eco or Dino Buzzati. The bulk of these stories were written in the 1960s, and each eloquently speaks to an aspect of the Sicilian way of life and history, such as distrust for outsiders, the Mafia culture, Catholicism, Communism, and the desperation of poverty. Some read as ye olde folk tales, others as cutting political commentary. In “Demotion,” a Communist leader gets a back a little of his own after berating his wife for clinging to a decanonized saint. “Guifa” tells the tale of a village idiot who outsmarts a military captain in a rustic way that puts the reader in mind of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories or a fable by Aesop. The greed and treachery involved in the depressing tale “The Long Crossing” leaves the reader feeling as betrayed as the victims in the story; it illustrates the desperation the people must have felt and the risks they took to reach a better place with better opportunities. “Mafia Western” is about a blood feud between two Families taking such a death toll that an outsider’s influence on the body count goes unnoticed until after a truce is negotiated. This man’s vendetta struck fear in the hearts of the fearless Mafiosi, a tale that many Sicilians would likely appreciate. Sciascia’s collection is riveting and enlightening, a perfect introduction to his other works such as The Day of the Owl.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    Reading the late Sicilian writer Antonio Sciascia while traveling in Sicily recently was a good decision. So much that he writes about seems to have real currency, at least to this fairly superficial traveler with far too little Italian. The striking landscape (and wine-dark sea, at least as seen from Taormina) has not changed, nor has the corrupting power of the mafia, which just extracts and doesn't develop, or the almost imploring look of residents there who want to know if you are impressed Reading the late Sicilian writer Antonio Sciascia while traveling in Sicily recently was a good decision. So much that he writes about seems to have real currency, at least to this fairly superficial traveler with far too little Italian. The striking landscape (and wine-dark sea, at least as seen from Taormina) has not changed, nor has the corrupting power of the mafia, which just extracts and doesn't develop, or the almost imploring look of residents there who want to know if you are impressed with their homeland, a place where there is so much to like . . . and so much to dislike as well. Several of Sciasia's stories will long stay with this reader. "The Long Crossing," about Sicilians who believe they are traveling by ship to America, is devastating, especially when read against the backdrop of what now goes on almost daily in Lampedusa. And the delightful "Giufa," which is really just an extended joke, says much about gullible Catholicism and a "stupid Moslem," who is really not so stupid at all!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    The Sicilian language has no future tense. Nostalgia for La Cosa Nostra is not strictly an American phenomenon. Aleister Crowley lived in Sicily for a while before WWII, and Mussolini had him deported. Or that one Sciascia might have just made up. There was one story in there that reminded me a lot of Lucio Fulci's "Don't Torture a Duckling." The Sicilian language has no future tense. Nostalgia for La Cosa Nostra is not strictly an American phenomenon. Aleister Crowley lived in Sicily for a while before WWII, and Mussolini had him deported. Or that one Sciascia might have just made up. There was one story in there that reminded me a lot of Lucio Fulci's "Don't Torture a Duckling."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Tole

    I confess to not having heard of Leonardo Sciascia before. This is a bad lacking on my part particularly because he wrote the novel (Equal Danger Il contesto. Una parodia) in 1971 from which Francesco Rosi made the film Illustrious Corpses (Cadaveri eccellenti) in 1976 and which is one of my favourite films. This collection of short stories published in 2000, was brought out at the request of readers to bring them all together in one volume. The stories were written between 1959 and 1972. They ar I confess to not having heard of Leonardo Sciascia before. This is a bad lacking on my part particularly because he wrote the novel (Equal Danger Il contesto. Una parodia) in 1971 from which Francesco Rosi made the film Illustrious Corpses (Cadaveri eccellenti) in 1976 and which is one of my favourite films. This collection of short stories published in 2000, was brought out at the request of readers to bring them all together in one volume. The stories were written between 1959 and 1972. They are nearly all set in Sicily and illustrate the particular character of Sicilian people – lawyers, landowners, peasants, wives, husbands and priests. The short Introduction by Albert Mobilio and the even briefer endnote by the author bookend the stories and provide some background detail. It is interesting that Mobilio, when detailing modernist Italian authors fails to mention both Moravia and Lampedusa, the former because thay were contemporaries and share the deep exposure of character in their writing and the latter because of his intense association with Sicily Each of the stories is supremely Sicilian and illuminating of the character of that island, a land which has been invaded at various times by Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Portuguese, Normans, French and Arabs, and influences from all these invaders has made up the ‘character’ of the Sicilian people as well as those inherent tendencies and capabilities. (it’s a pity that not one of the characters in the stories is called Salvatore which in my limited experience of Italian rig workers seemed to be the most common Sicilian Christian name!). In these stories Church, State and family all make war and peace with each other to various degrees to make sure that no one comes out on top. These are not the Sicilians of Mario Puzo's The Godfather cycle. These here never left for America. They are raised in the soil of Sicily and bear its remarkable sense and character. They are all aware, however, of the gospel of omertà and have had dealings with mafiosi. These 13 tales make you smell the scent of orange blossom and soil as well as the streets of Palermo. There is not one mention of Etna or Corleone. They are all deeply illustrative and at times comedic. They are all so suggestive of other pieces of fiction or stage - Cavalleria Rusticana , Lorca's Blood Wedding , even Thackeray's Barry Lyndon . The last tale Euphrosyne even takes on Borgesian tones. Anyone headed to Sicily needs to read this book and feel the character of the place they are headed to. They are all wonderfully human and delightful. A great find!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Allum

    Skeptical Sicilian short stories: a population paralyzed between family, church, mafia. A nice introductory essay by Albert Mobilio. He quotes Luigi Barzini in The Italians: "Everywhere life in Italy is more or less slowed down by the exuberant intelligence of the inhabitants, in Sicily it is paralyzed by it." Mobilio draws parallels with the writing of Faulkner: "Sicily too is a land of insurrection, tribal fiefdoms, and baroque rites of honor.... The Sicilian language is the only one in Europe Skeptical Sicilian short stories: a population paralyzed between family, church, mafia. A nice introductory essay by Albert Mobilio. He quotes Luigi Barzini in The Italians: "Everywhere life in Italy is more or less slowed down by the exuberant intelligence of the inhabitants, in Sicily it is paralyzed by it." Mobilio draws parallels with the writing of Faulkner: "Sicily too is a land of insurrection, tribal fiefdoms, and baroque rites of honor.... The Sicilian language is the only one in Europe that has no future tense. The island's bitter legacy of conquest and revolt seems to have stunted its inhabitants' ability to conceive of a time outside this recurrent cycle." The short stories include a retelling of Sicilian folk tales (The Ransom, Giufa), satirical commentary on the church and communist politics (Demotion), a mini-Homeric saga of family and budding love (The Wine-Dark Sea), crime (Trial by Violence), and mafiosi (Mafia Western, and Philology). While the collection is absorbing, informative about Sicily, and often literary in style, it does not make a compelling case for Sciascia as one of Italy's contributors to the Western literary cannon (as hypothesized by Harold Bloom). His striking novella, The Day of the Owl, is perhaps more convincing of in this regard.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Like most short story collections, a little patchy but where the tales soar, they do so stratospherically. The result is a many faceted study of Sicilian attitudes and society with those familiar traits of omertà, loyalty and family always present. The best stories include a voyage to Trenton, New Jersey that could have seen its participants end up rubbing shoulders with a future Uncle Junior and Paulie Walnuts had things not taken a different, somewhat predictable turn and an exchange of letter Like most short story collections, a little patchy but where the tales soar, they do so stratospherically. The result is a many faceted study of Sicilian attitudes and society with those familiar traits of omertà, loyalty and family always present. The best stories include a voyage to Trenton, New Jersey that could have seen its participants end up rubbing shoulders with a future Uncle Junior and Paulie Walnuts had things not taken a different, somewhat predictable turn and an exchange of letters between the Sicilian rozzers and Mussolini's office concerning Aleister Crowley's tendency to host pool parties on the island. Deadpan.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ferris

    This is such an interesting collection of short stories, and my first introduction to the Sicilian author, Leonardo Sciascia. The stories are distinctly different in plot, yet there were common threads throughout. They abound with passions, violence, revenge, betrayal, and family love and loyalty. I felt as though I was peeking into a culture which is at once a bit intimidating and deeply intriguing. Clearly, Sciascia is an erudite, articulate writer which brings a richness and depth to his stor This is such an interesting collection of short stories, and my first introduction to the Sicilian author, Leonardo Sciascia. The stories are distinctly different in plot, yet there were common threads throughout. They abound with passions, violence, revenge, betrayal, and family love and loyalty. I felt as though I was peeking into a culture which is at once a bit intimidating and deeply intriguing. Clearly, Sciascia is an erudite, articulate writer which brings a richness and depth to his stories that is icing on the cake!

  12. 5 out of 5

    T.E. Wilson

    These stories have a writing style that is more sparse than in Sciascia's novels. Many of the stories are structured as fables, and as such suggest a kind of moral message, though the lessons are far from clear. Despite the tight prose and proverbial structure, each tale is quite different, likely as they were written at different stages of Sciascia's long career. This is thoughtful, clear minded writing with heart, and well worth your time. These stories have a writing style that is more sparse than in Sciascia's novels. Many of the stories are structured as fables, and as such suggest a kind of moral message, though the lessons are far from clear. Despite the tight prose and proverbial structure, each tale is quite different, likely as they were written at different stages of Sciascia's long career. This is thoughtful, clear minded writing with heart, and well worth your time.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jamie MacDonald Jones

    A real mixed bag - I’d be very interested to read a justification by Sciascia for including each of these stories, apart from him saying that these were representative of his work as a whole. Some of the short stories are really gripping, or seemingly quite straight-forward until a major volte face. Others seemed rather redundant to me (particularly the one about Aleister Crowley) but enjoyable as a collection nonetheless.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Miller

    I devoured these short stories! This is a collection of 13 stories that have been translated from Italian. I often find that short story translations can be choppy to read, but these ones were pretty good. Leonardo’s writing is full of subtle humor, Sicilian roots, and folk-style storytelling. Thanks for the free copy, Capsule Books!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tuğrulcan Elmas

    Contains many stories and themes that shed light on Sicilian culture. Learnt of some iconic people like Guifa, Vincenzo Verzeni, Marcantonio Colonna and Eufrosina, the mysterious letter sent to priest Lucchesini, Aleister Crowley and the commissaire who sends his fascist regards to Mussolini while talking about him.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lynette

    I haven't read many short story tellers. I found Sciascia writing fascinating. The stories were very simple, in terms of events that occur in every day life, but told with amazing insight or depth that I was not expecting. I haven't read many short story tellers. I found Sciascia writing fascinating. The stories were very simple, in terms of events that occur in every day life, but told with amazing insight or depth that I was not expecting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Much the same as my reviews of his other books. Compelling short stories that whilst "naif" on first read trigger some very conflicted reactions and conclusions. Much the same as my reviews of his other books. Compelling short stories that whilst "naif" on first read trigger some very conflicted reactions and conclusions.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aveugle Vogel

    "washing a donkey's face" "washing a donkey's face"

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Toy

    A fun romp through Sicilian social realist lit. The stories made me chuckle and the language is quite beautiful.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amandina

    Beautiful. Read it for a sample of the wonder of Sicilian literature.

  21. 5 out of 5

    JacquiWine

    The thirteen pieces in this excellent collection of Leonardo Sciascia’s short stories, The Wine-Dark Sea, were written between 1959 and 1972. Collectively, the author considered these stories – which are arranged in chronological order – as a kind of summary of his work up until that point in time. As such, the pieces are somewhat diverse in nature, and yet there is something inherently Sicilian in each and every one, a reflection of a certain aspect of the island’s soul and character. As with o The thirteen pieces in this excellent collection of Leonardo Sciascia’s short stories, The Wine-Dark Sea, were written between 1959 and 1972. Collectively, the author considered these stories – which are arranged in chronological order – as a kind of summary of his work up until that point in time. As such, the pieces are somewhat diverse in nature, and yet there is something inherently Sicilian in each and every one, a reflection of a certain aspect of the island’s soul and character. As with other collections I’ve covered here, I’m not going to review each individual story. Instead, I will focus on my favourites, the ones that made the greatest impression or spoke to me in some way. The collection opens with The Ransom, Sciascia’s retelling of an old folk tale he first heard during a visit to the capital as a young boy. When Don Nicola Cirino, the Procurator General of Palermo takes a fancy to a beautiful girl named Concettina, he sees an opportunity to strike a bargain with her father, Don Raimondo. If the father allows him to marry Concettina, Don Nicola will arrange for the release of the man’s son-in-law, currently serving a prison sentence for killing a peasant with a single kick of his foot. Despite the young girl’s concerns, the father agrees to the union, and so Concettina has to marry the old judge; in effect, the innocent must pay the price for the release of the guilty. However, the story doesn’t end at this point; there are further developments to come, events that add a touch of irony to this old tale. Many of the stories in this collection are underscored by a sense of rivalry between factions, whether it be clashes between husbands and wives, conflicts between separate branches of the Mafia or tensions between local neighbourhoods. This quote from The Ransom captures it nicely as Sciascia reflects on the differences between two neighbouring towns, Grotte and Racalmutto. In truth, the two towns, although only separated by a couple of miles, were as different as could be. Grotte had a Protestant minority and a Socialist majority, three or four families of Jewish descent and a strong Mafia; it also had bad roads, mean houses and dreary festivals. Racalmuto staged a festival that lasted a whole week and was splendidly colourful and extravagant; the people of Grotte flocked to it in their hundreds; but for the rest of the year the town was tranquil and trouble-free, being electorally divided between two great families, having a handful of Socialists, and army of priests and a Mafia divided against itself. (pg. 5) Perhaps somewhat inevitably, the Mafia feature in quite a few of Sciascia’s stories. In Philology, two men discuss the origins and meaning of the word ‘mafia’, but their reasons for doing so only become clear as the story unfolds. Another story, the aptly named Mafia Western, features two rival Mafia cells that have been in conflict with one another for many years. When a third cell is suspected of killing several members of both factions, not even the patriarchs of the Mafia hierarchy can solve the issue through the usual declaration of a truce; so they leave it up to the two cells to resolve things as swiftly as possible. The mafiosi of the town began to make their own investigations, but fear, the sense of being the objects of an inscrutable vendetta or homicidal whim, and finding themselves suddenly in exactly the same position in which they themselves had placed honest people for so long, left them bewildered and robbed of much of their will to act. They were reduced to imploring their political members in their turn to implore the carabinieri to mount a real, thorough-going and efficient investigation—even though they suspected that the carabinieri themselves, having failed to smoke them out by legal methods, might have resorted to this shadier, more secure one. (pg. 169-170) To read the rest of my review, please click here: https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/2016...

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

    Leonardo Sciascia’s novels and full-length non-fictions are such models of concision, pinpoint detail and lithe plotting that I was anxious to see what he could do within the short story form . . . and somewhat disappointed to find that it wasn’t much, or as much as I would've liked. With a few exceptions, the thirteen stories comprised in The Wine Dark Sea never really rise above the level of accomplished pastiche: the early stories bear the influence of the French and Russian masters (Gogol in Leonardo Sciascia’s novels and full-length non-fictions are such models of concision, pinpoint detail and lithe plotting that I was anxious to see what he could do within the short story form . . . and somewhat disappointed to find that it wasn’t much, or as much as I would've liked. With a few exceptions, the thirteen stories comprised in The Wine Dark Sea never really rise above the level of accomplished pastiche: the early stories bear the influence of the French and Russian masters (Gogol in “The Long Crossing,” Chekhov in the title story) while the later ones, in their blurring of historical anecdote, mannered commentary and fantasy owe a perhaps too obvious debt to Borges. There is one legitimate knockout here: “A Matter of Conscience” strikes me as the most accomplished story in the collection, the one in which Sciascia is at his fullest and most relaxed command of the form. On a return train from Rome to Sicily, a lawyer, Vaccagnino, reads with great glee a Dear Abby-type column (the advice in this case comes from a priest) in a popular women’s magazine: an anonymous housewife from his town admits to an infidelity early in her marriage for which she still suffers great feelings of guilt. She loves her husband dearly. Should she tell him? Vaccagnino can’t wait to show the clipping to his buddies at the club. Boy howdy, it’ll be fun trying to figure out who the poor bastard is! If Sciascia played to expectations, if he were Maupassant (or, worse, O. Henry), the lawyer’s schadenfreude would blind him until the last paragraph to the forehead-slapping conclusion that he’s been the cuckold all along. Don’t worry — by telling you he isn’t, I’m not spoiling the story so much as letting you know that it’s a lot more interesting and complex and well-crafted than that, and that instead of an ironic twist ending, Sciascia gives us something altogether more disquieting and otherworldly and provocative. I didn’t find anything else in The Wine-Dark Sea up to this level of mastery, but I enjoyed a few other stories in the collection: “Philology,” in which two honorable men discuss the etymology of the word ‘mafia’; “The Test,” with its nicely drawn critique of Northern-Southern hegemony and sinister undertones of (figurative? literal? mafia-sponsored?) prostitution; the “Apocryphal Correspondence” between Mussolini and local officials regarding the presence of occultist Aleister Crowley in the seaside resort of Cefalù. “Demotion” paints a vivid portrait of provincial religiosity (and demeaning patriarchy), but suffers from a pat, obvious ending (Sciascia’s metaphors aren’t always subtle), the kind he skillfully sidesteps in “A Matter of Conscience.” A decidedly mixed bag.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle

    Beautifully written book filled with irony, mythology and the strange hypocrisy of the Sicilian character.

  24. 5 out of 5

    J.C. Heinbockel

    Uneven, but fascinating. Some stories wonderful and heartbreaking, others very curious.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Roger

    In an author's note at the end of this collection, Sciascia writes "These short stories were written - together with a few more that seemed to me not worth collecting and reissuing - between 1959 and 1972." He goes on to write that this collection came about owing to requests from his readers, who wished to have the stories collected into one volume. And what a great little volume it is - stories that give us the flavour of Sicily in bite-sized pieces. Some of these stories are a moment in time e In an author's note at the end of this collection, Sciascia writes "These short stories were written - together with a few more that seemed to me not worth collecting and reissuing - between 1959 and 1972." He goes on to write that this collection came about owing to requests from his readers, who wished to have the stories collected into one volume. And what a great little volume it is - stories that give us the flavour of Sicily in bite-sized pieces. Some of these stories are a moment in time extrapolated to show the nature of a place: Philology for example, where a discussion about the origins of a word (mafia) tell us in ten pages what the Mafia is, how it works, and how it continues to thrive in Sicily. Some stories speak of the clash of cultures, such as The test where a Swiss businessman cannot grasp what he is being "told" by his Sicilian counterparts, because the Sicilian way is to talk in metaphor around an issue, rather than with the Teutonic directness of their Northern neighbours. Many stories are about love, and how families can come to regret thwarting true love when it is deemed not to their benefit, even when the payoff can be years later, as in The ransom. All of the stories are human stories, stories of love, of revenge, of stupidity and avarice. The are all written in the spare, ironic style that Sciascia is known for, which leaves the reader thinking. Well worth dipping into. Check out my other reviews at http://aviewoverthebell.blogspot.com.au/

  26. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A suitable subtitle would be Thirteen disappointing tales of Sicily. Part of the disappointment lies in the stilted and ungainly English. It is traditional to blame the translator for this, but maybe she was being faithful to the original. If so, she has not done Sciascia any favours. It is difficult to pick an example, since the effect is cumulative, but a line of dialogue like “Either you refuse to answer, or I am being given to understand that you have no special feelings regarding your wife. A suitable subtitle would be Thirteen disappointing tales of Sicily. Part of the disappointment lies in the stilted and ungainly English. It is traditional to blame the translator for this, but maybe she was being faithful to the original. If so, she has not done Sciascia any favours. It is difficult to pick an example, since the effect is cumulative, but a line of dialogue like “Either you refuse to answer, or I am being given to understand that you have no special feelings regarding your wife.” is fairly typical. This may be English, Jim, but not as we know it. Possibly it is an attempt to mimic some peculiarly Sicilian usage. If so, it does not work. The Wine-Dark Sea is not a pleasure to read. The stories themselves are not much better. In ‘The Long Crossing’, for example, a group of Sicilian peasants pay “a man with an honest face” to smuggle them by boat into America. I can guess an ending for this story and so can you. Unfortunately, after a trudge through ten pages of Sciascian prose, this is the ending we get. In the hands of a better writer, this would be a two-line throwaway anecdote within a far more ambitious, insightful, and interesting story about Sicily and the Sicilians. Some of the later stories (they are arranged chronologically) are somewhat better – but this is faint praise. I was hoping for something a lot more engaging and memorable from an author the TLS described as “one of the major writers of the age”.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Sciascia's texts waver in the full light of day-- are they really fiction at all? are they true, except for this point, or that one? Cause for celebration, it seems to me. His prose is a perfect match for this sense of the perhaps-true: a Gordian knot with sword provided, it is easy to speed through, but rushed at the expense of meaning. Relationships are revealed between the lines, but also in lines waiting to be reread in the light of some further information (which Sciascia may or may not pro Sciascia's texts waver in the full light of day-- are they really fiction at all? are they true, except for this point, or that one? Cause for celebration, it seems to me. His prose is a perfect match for this sense of the perhaps-true: a Gordian knot with sword provided, it is easy to speed through, but rushed at the expense of meaning. Relationships are revealed between the lines, but also in lines waiting to be reread in the light of some further information (which Sciascia may or may not provide). What Sciascia is waiting on, at least in this country, is an authoritative explanation of his method, or else a heavily footnoted edition of his work. All of the muffled (by history and by distance) references that elude the casual reader not steeped in 20th c. Italian history reward further investigation (and the subsequent rereading of Sciascia). It seems likely, given his treatment of his chosen subject (and what I have read about his method), that that is how Sciascia wanted it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    It would be easy to mistake Sciscia as a cynic. In many of his novels the innocent of heart and mind are dealt with rather brutally by the corrupt forces that run things, but read a little deeper and you'll find a warm, loving heart beating below the surface of the cynicism. I find, in this collection of short works, a truer picture of what Sciscia was all about than the brutality of his novels would suggest. The title story of this collection, for example, is one of the most graceful pieces of It would be easy to mistake Sciscia as a cynic. In many of his novels the innocent of heart and mind are dealt with rather brutally by the corrupt forces that run things, but read a little deeper and you'll find a warm, loving heart beating below the surface of the cynicism. I find, in this collection of short works, a truer picture of what Sciscia was all about than the brutality of his novels would suggest. The title story of this collection, for example, is one of the most graceful pieces of fiction I've ever read and often, finding myself in the presence of obnoxious little brats, I have thought of this story and draw from it the strength to be kind to those little snot-nosed bastards. The other stories display an incredible mastery of a wide range of styles and genres - showing Sciscia to be a much more talented writer than one would suspect from his novels which, although brilliant, tend to follow the same pattern.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily Cleaver

    The best story in this collection, and one I would now add to my top 20 favourite short stories, is A Matter of Conscience – a lawyer travelling on a train picks up a woman’s magazine and reads the problem page, where he sees a letter from a woman in his own town admitting to having an affair. The letter sends the men of the town into a frenzy of gossip and suspicion as they try to guess whose wife wrote the letter. The story is funny, but the ending is strange, unsettling and heart-wrenching. T The best story in this collection, and one I would now add to my top 20 favourite short stories, is A Matter of Conscience – a lawyer travelling on a train picks up a woman’s magazine and reads the problem page, where he sees a letter from a woman in his own town admitting to having an affair. The letter sends the men of the town into a frenzy of gossip and suspicion as they try to guess whose wife wrote the letter. The story is funny, but the ending is strange, unsettling and heart-wrenching. These stories, written between 1959 and 1972 by the Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia, weave traces of Sicilian folk stories, the mafia, family, religion, provinciality and philosophy into simple but memorable plots. Some I found less satisfying – the political themes sometimes make them interesting rather than gripping, but there’s a piercing sense of humour and a light touch throughout that makes them all very readable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eugene

    Really enjoying this collection of short stories by Sicilian writer Sciascia. This was given to me as a present about four years ago by a friend, but I only picked it up over the summer. To every book there is a season. Or something. Anyway, have been picking it up at regular intervals on the commute into work and am always glad I have. Apparently a graduate of the Italian Realist school - no, I know nothing about this either - the stories conjure up Sicily, the South, rich with character. Prope Really enjoying this collection of short stories by Sicilian writer Sciascia. This was given to me as a present about four years ago by a friend, but I only picked it up over the summer. To every book there is a season. Or something. Anyway, have been picking it up at regular intervals on the commute into work and am always glad I have. Apparently a graduate of the Italian Realist school - no, I know nothing about this either - the stories conjure up Sicily, the South, rich with character. Proper grown-up writing. Not much in the way of literary tricksyness, just a great understanding of people and a great clarity of language. A real gem. I must thank my friend again...

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