Tag Archives: Sicily

Book Review: The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza

The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza Title: The Art of Joy
Author: Goliarda Sapienza
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 9780241956991
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 687
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are very few novels you will come across in your life – that are huge in scope. That literally takes the breath of the reader and is not shy or apologetic about it. It is also about the magnitude of some novels that almost make you wonder if such authors exist anymore or can there be works of this nature ever produced again. “The Art of Joy” by Goliarda Sapienza is one such classic.

Very few books have left me stupendous – literally dumbfounded at times, without anything left to say. What “The Art of Joy” also does ironically is make you think of your voice and your opinions. Goliarda’s protagonist is so strong and yet so weak, that any of us can identify with her and yet emerge our own person. I also think that somewhere is the underlined intent of the book.

Modesta is everything a woman is – weak, powerful, giving, restraining and yet wanting it all. She blends into the plot, with the history of Italy as the plot unfolds. It is a memoir of sorts and yet it is as hidden as it could get. There are spaces in-between that shine through and will dazzle the reader. There are times when the writing just takes you by storm. The story of Modesta and Italy are superbly portrayed. There is no separating the two.

What I am most surprised is that the book was rejected by various publishers, before it could get published in 2005 and deserved recognition at last. Modesta’s story is one to reckon with. “The Art of Joy” spans through the entire century – the history of the twentieth century, with the figure of one lone strong woman.

There are so many linear plots to the novel and yet there wasn’t a single time I was tired reading it. It felt that I had to go on and on or else I would not be able to sleep. Modesta’s hopes, desires and her aspirations become yours. She is able to be her person and voice in a society that is patriarchal and driven by what men think and feel.

“The Art of Joy” cannot be classified in any genre and yet I will call it literary fiction. It is one book that I think everyone must read at some point in their lives. This book should be cherished and perhaps reread. This is what the value is. A marvellous read.

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Book Review: The Terracotta Dog (Montalbano 2) by Andrea Camilleri

Title: The TerraCotta Dog (Inspector Montalbano 2)
Author: Andrea Camilleri
Genre: Detective Fiction
ISBN: 978-0330492911
Publisher: Picador
PP: 352 pages
Price: Rs. 330
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Terra-Cotta Dog is an extremely rewarding police procedural with deep cultural and historical roots that provide a delightful complexity for the reader. I would award this book six stars if I could. If you have not yet read any of the Inspector Montalbano books, I suggest that you take the time to read The Shape of Water first. That book helps set up the context of the characters and makes The Terra-Cotta Dog far more interesting.

This book has Inspector Montalbano solving several mysteries before he is done. In a fascinating way, each mystery leads unexpectedly into the next one. And so on. It’s like opening the Russian nesting dolls to find another treasure inside. I can rarely recall such fine plotting and seamless connections between disparate story elements in one police procedural.

As the book opens, Montalbano has been invited to meet secretly with a dangerous killer. Is it a trap? Why would the killer want to meet with a police inspector? The answer leads to a merry-go-round of public relations activities to cover up the real motive. Then, the charade collapses and Montalbano finds out about an unknown crime. More public relations follow . . . and from them Montalbano gets a clue to other hidden crimes. The rest of the novel reminded me of an archeologist’s work in uncovering earlier civilizations that built on the same site.

The main contexts for these mysteries are the Sicilian Mafia, the Fascist era, the American invasion of Sicily during World War II, and the Christian and Moslem religions. How’s that for an unusual combination? Montalbano emerges as an even more interesting character in this book than in The Shape of Water, especially as his relationship with his girl friend Livia develops. As before, the food references are a delight and add a warm human touch to offset the evil that coils throughout the story.

As I finished the story, I was reminded how important it is to be dogged in chasing down details that don’t seem to make sense. There’s always an explanation for mysteries, but the explanation will never be revealed unless you follow the path to the answer wherever it takes you.

Book Review: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Title: The Shape of Water
Author: Andrea Camilleri
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Crime
ISBN: 9780330492867
PP: 256 Pages
Source: Publisher
Price: £7.99
Rating: 5/5

This was a fast-moving thriller set in a fictional Sicilian town. The author is Italian, and his hero is a local police chief, Salvo Montalbano. Unlike other crime fiction that is set in Italy but written by foreigners, this stuff is more down to earth and skips a lot of the pretty description and social observation. That is not to say that there is no social observation here – what would be the point of writing something set in Italy without it? But Camilleri, being a local, gets to the point faster and uses a lot of cynical humor and quick dialogue. The style reminded me a little of Simenon, although the characters and situations are different.

The story begins quickly, with the discovery of a leading politician’s corpse, sitting in a car in a sleazy part of town frequented by whores and their customers. Although it is pretty strange that he should be found dead in such a place, pressure is immediately applied to the Montalbano to quickly wrap up the investigation. Feeling that he is being used, this cop instead begins to investigate. Montalbano is pretty much a classic paperback detective, but without the vices. He is tough and rational, but primarily a decent man who tries hard to do the right thing. Camilleri paints a picture of a Sicily that is rife with corruption of all kinds – financial, political, sexual – especially sexual – and a lot of this is taken for granted by everybody. This is, I suppose, a cliche about Southern Italy, but in this case it is employed by an Italian writer.

Montalbano begins to investigate, and discovers that, not surprisingly, things are not what they seem. But neither do they turn out to be the usual type of thing one would expect either. The pace is quick, and things are interesting and hard to puzzle out up thru the ending. The ending is a surprise too – a double ending, in which Montalbano, the only one who seems to have a clue as to what really happened (with one exception), ends up with two plausible explanations for the politician’s death – and no arrests appear to be imminent.

Also coming into the picture are the dead man’s political rival, his party boy son, and the son’s Swedish blonde bombshell wife, who is apparently screwing any man who gets within a few feet of her. This was the first book in a series, and it seems like the author is trying to set up a series. There are an awful lot of characters that pop up in such short book, and I would bet that they reappear in other tales. Camilleri is no poetic prosemaster, but this was a solid, taut, well-designed page-turner with a fair amount of humor to balance out the violence.

This is very cerebral detecting, even given the Maigret-like texture of the narrative. Fans of rough-and-tumble may be disappointed. Those who flinch at the social critique of the South of Italy may find the portrayal of Sicilians to be a bit problematic too.

But I think these objections are misplaced. The real action in this book is on the social and personal level. It is precisely the quality of thought that the ever-humane Montalbano brings to the proceedings that make them exciting. More importantly, his dim-eyed view of Sicilan society and mores is an invitation to reflect on its similarities to our own. Sicily here is not a stand-in for some uncivilized ‘other’. It’s handled with a sympathy that makes it a proxy for all of us.

You can purchase the book on Flipkart here and on Infibeam here