The Wine-Dark Sea (New York Review Books Classics)

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9780940322530: The Wine-Dark Sea (New York Review Books Classics)

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 intelligence with a streetfighter'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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Review:

A novelist, polemicist, occasional politician, and perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize, Leonardo Sciascia died in 1989. He left behind a formidable array of books, all of which revolve around the hallucinatory realities of Sicilian life. But the stories collected in The Wine-Dark Sea may be the best introduction to his work. They offer a kind of capsule history of Sicily, ranging through several hundred years and engaging the country's events from their exhilarating and terrible underside. A good comparison might be the naif's-eye view of Waterloo that Stendhal creates in The Charterhouse of Parma. (Sciascia recalls Stendhal in other ways, too; he shares the same adamant clarity, the same bone-dry wit, which may explain why he's always been a hard sell in the United States.)

These tales all have a certain riddling quality, whether they're recounting a nugget of Sicilian history or staging one of Sciascia's many comedies of ironic disillusionment. Included among the latter are "The Long Crossing," in which an assortment of Sicilian immigrants are disbursed of their life savings and put ashore not in the New World but back on their own island. There's also the superb title story, about the bottomless chasm separating Sicilians and outsiders, bridged only temporarily by a group of strangers traveling from Rome to Agrigento. "Philology," the closest thing to a classic Pirandellian exercise, lets us eavesdrop on two mafiosi cramming for an upcoming session with a Commission of Enquiry. The subject: how to answer the question "What is the Mafia?" They consult a battery of dictionaries, arguing about the merits of various definitions and etymologies. At the end, the superior of the two adds his own footnote to the scholarship:

And we know that the thing itself, the association, was already in existence by the fact (this is my addition) that the mafiosi imprisoned in the Vicaria issued a directive in 1860 addressed to their friends outside, advising them to behave well and not commit such crimes as theft, rape and murder that the Bourbons could use ... against the Garibaldi revolution.
This enlightened thug concludes his history lesson with a general point: "Culture, my friend, is a wonderful thing." So too is fiction, at least in Sciascia's hands. He offers little in the way of certainty, but his questions, posed with deadly accuracy, are worth the answers of a dozen other authors. --James Marcus

About the Author:

Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989) was born in Racamulto, Sicily. Starting in the 1950s, he established himself in Italy as a novelist and essayist, and also as a controversial commentator on political affairs. Among his many other books are Salt on the Wound, a biography of a Sicilian town, The Council of Egypt, an historical novel, and Todo Modo, a book in a genre that Sciascia could be said to have invented: the metaphysical mystery.

Albert Mobilio is a poet and critic. His books of poetry include Bendable Siege and The Geographics, and his criticism has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and The Village Voice. In 1999 he won the National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in reviewing. He teaches at The New School.

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Book Description NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, United Kingdom, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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 intelligence with a streetfighter 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. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780940322530

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Book Description NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, United Kingdom, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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 intelligence with a streetfighter 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. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780940322530

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