I had never read anything about the history of Italy’s unification (called the “Risorgimento”), and was glad to read this charming novel. The story is set in 1860s Sicily and accounts for the personal trajectory of a Sicilian aristocrat Fabrizio Salina as he gets caught up in the social and political storm that would bring democracy and irrevocable changes to the various disparate Italian states.
Written in a lush style embellished by similes and metaphors, the story is told through a narrator whose voice is tinged at once with nostalgic melancholy and dry humor, chiefly from Fabrizio Salina’s viewpoint. In face of imminent upheavals instigated by revolutionaries led by Giuseppe Garibaldi who aims at uniting the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples (ruled by the French Bourbons) with the Kingdom of Sardinia (ruled by the State of Savoy), the protagonist, who belongs to the old ruling class, adopts a pragmatic attitude by persuading his Sicilian people to lend support to the new democratic regime. He also encourages his ambitious nephew Tancredi in his scheme to marry Angelica, the dazzling daughter of a nouveau riche from the peasant class, even though he is aware that his youngest daughter is madly in love with Tancredi.
Much of the novel is devoted to exhibiting Fabrizio’s emotional torment, moral struggles and psychological turmoil that arise from the unsettling external paradigm shift, signifying the inexorable demise of an era, to which he is irredeemably attached.
Perhaps this passage reveals the essence of Fabrizio’s pride and agony:
It was useless to try to avoid the thought, but the last of the Salinas was really he himself, this gaunt giant now dying on a hotel balcony. For the significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions, that is in its vital memories; and he was the last to have any unusual memories, anything different from those of other families.
I’m giving this novel 3.8 stars. Now I need to watch the 1963 movie starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon!