Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily

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9780738202693: Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily

In 1986, love drew Theresa Maggio to Favignana, an island just off the coast of Sicily. There the young journalist encountered the mysterious world of the tonnara-the ritual trapping and killing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea-and the mattanza, the stunning, bloody climax of the fishing season when the huge fish are wrestled from the sea and killed. Mattanza is the riveting story of Maggio's annual return to witness this timeless struggle between man and the sea. An alluring blend of memoir, history, and travelogue, Mattanza documents an insular and exotic world where the tonnara continues according to ancient ritual even as modern fishing methods edge it towards extinction.

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Review:

A mattanza, in Italian, is a slaughter--in the instance Theresa Maggio relates, a springtime slaughter of bluefin tuna, the fish highly prized by sports fishermen and gourmands. In these elegant pages, Maggio describes the hard lives of Sicilian fishermen who chase the bluefin, reenacting a hunt that extends far back into prehistory and whose rituals, including that ceremonial massacre, have gone essentially unchanged for thousands of years.

Maggio, a former science writer at the Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, first traveled to her ancestral island in her early 30s. On the rocky coast of Favignana she witnessed her first mattanza, an unexpected "font of primal energy, beauty, and suffering, all in a tiny square of sea." After observing the coordinated efforts of the fishermen, who battled to drive the three-quarter-ton fish into a carefully constructed maze of net traps, Maggio came to develop an appreciation for the hunt in Sicilian village life. It is a ritual as laden with meaning as the buffalo hunt in Plains Indian cultures.

Maggio's memoir of life, death, and hard work in a dangerous sea joins with Peter Matthiessen's Men's Lives as a thoughtful study in human ecology. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Theresa Maggio, the granddaughter of Sicilian immigrants, grew up in the New Jersey Meadowlands. After college she hitchhiked coast-to-coast alone three times. She finally settled down in Vermont in 1975, and made laser optics there until she was recruited by Los Alamos National Laboratory. Since the early 1990s, she has worked as a free-lance travel writer. Her work has appeared frequently in the New York Times as well as the Financial Times, London Daily Telegraph, New York Daily News, and Miami Herald, among other publications.

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