Midnight in Sicily

This is not a travel book, but rather a sophisticated attempt to make sense of the on-going prosecution of the 78-year-old seven-time prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, and of the intimate ties between the mafia and postwar Italian politics. An Australian by birth, Robb is not just parachuting in to gawk at the corruption that traded in votes, money, government contracts and even assassinations.

Peter Robb, Author Faber & Faber $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-571-19932-7

Midnight in SicilyThis is not a travel book, but rather a sophisticated attempt to make sense of the on-going prosecution of the 78-year-old seven-time prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, and of the intimate ties between the mafia and postwar Italian politics. An Australian by birth, Robb is not just parachuting in to gawk at the corruption that traded in votes, money, government contracts and even assassinations. A longtime resident of Naples, Robb adeptly puts the elusive world of organized crime (both Neapolitan and Sicilian) in a historical context that stretches back to the 19th century. In Sicily, however, organized crime is not an isolated institution and its pervasiveness is suggested by Robb’s brilliant interweaving of writers such as Leonardo Sciascia, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and the artist Renato Guttuso. Many artists saw a connection between the rich food of Sicily and the mob, which Robb expertly exploits, even repeating an ironic quote from Andreotti himself: “I found myself with my stomach full of marvelous but terrible food, the pasta con le sarde, the cassata and not only did I not understand a thing there but I was ill too. I wonder whether there’s a connection between food like this and the growth of the mafia.” Those who treasured Excellent Cadavers, Alexander Stille’s magnificent study of magistrates Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and the mafia “maxitrial,” will appreciate Robb’s epic story of evil and nobility.

Writing Sicily

Just being surrounded by the ancient and invigorating culture and history of Sicily can be an enormous inspiration. A writer needs certain raw materials to work with, and Sicily supplies these in spades.

Sicily – The Perfect Writing Retreat

For a relatively small island, Sicily packs one hell of an artistic heft. Legions of painters, sculptors, playwrights, poets, and novelists have hailed from, been inspired by, or produced their best works on Sicily. What is it about this island that brings out such a profusion of artistic productivity and excellence? And could Sicily work its magic for you? If you’re a writer in search of the perfect location in which to knuckle down to your magnum opus – a place which will both inspire you and let you work in peace – could Sicily be the answer?

Sicilian WritersSicilian Writers

Modern audiences may be familiar with the detective novels of Andrea Camilleri, featuring the Sicilian Inspector Montalbano. These are enjoyable bestsellers worldwide, and have undergone adaptation for the screen. But the gruff detective is far from the only literary credit to Sicily’s name. Who could forget Guiseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s ‘The Leopard’ – widely considered to be one of the best historical novels ever written. It charts the fortunes of the aristocratic Sicilian Salina family during the Risorgimento– and the island of Sicily itself is just as much of a central player as any of the Lampedusa’s human characters. The great Goethe also sang the praises of Sicily, stating that “To have seen Italy without seeing Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything”. Not even the peerless poet Coleridge was immune to Sicily’s charms. And let’s not forget the ancestors of modern literature, who also fell under the spell of the muse of Sicily. Ancient poets and playwrights like Aeschylus and Pindar produced their best works in Sicily. Going back even further, the myth-makers who launched Ancient Greek culture chose Sicily for the setting of a pivotal myth – that of the abduction of Persephone. Clearly this is an island which exerts a considerable pull over the poets and storytellers of the world.

Inspirational Sicily

Inspirational Sicily

All writers are different, so it would be wrong to make any generalisations as to why, precisely, Sicily appears to bring out the muse in so many. Some writers like peace and quiet in which to work, while others find isolation with a blank page intimidating and would rather have a little hubbub in the background! Some write as a form of therapy, while others do it to entertain themselves and others. Some write with political purpose, others through a spirit of sheer whimsy. No two writers are the same, so it can’t be stated with any certainty that what has worked for great writers in the past will work for you. However, having said this, Sicily does present a few general advantages for writers. For a start, it’s incredibly beautiful. Since the dawn of human civilization, writers and artists have drawn inspiration from natural beauty, and many modern writers are no exception. Modern science is now backing up this empirical knowledge through studies which appear to prove that spending time in beautiful, natural surroundings really can boost the brain’s creative powers. Sicily is, of course, hardly short of stunning natural landscapes. The congenial climate of Sicily may also help the budding writer. It’s arguably easier to concentrate if your body feels relaxed and happy than it is if your brain is distracted by things like cold and so forth then it’s more difficult to knuckle down to the business of writing.

Creative Culture

Then, of course, there is the cultural factor. Just being surrounded by the ancient and invigorating culture and history of Sicily can be an enormous inspiration. A writer needs certain raw materials to work with, and Sicily supplies these in spades. This is an island of intrigue, romance, tragedy, and comedy. It’s an island of incredible stories, which cannot fail to inspire. Not to mention the fact that today’s writers heading to Sicily will doubtless be aware of the great footsteps they’re treading in. The cultural ghosts of writers past may well draw on new generations to great literary feats. As such, Sicily’s artistic past feeds and perpetuates its future. If you are looking for the perfect location in which to find inspiration or get to work on your creation, Sicily could well be what you’re looking for.