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