The late Sicilian novelist Leonardo Sciascia was an expert chronicler of Italy's moral anguish, and both an artist and politicianby Duncan Fallowell / August 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
It’s rush hour in Palermo. Every man for himself. Natale, a student of electronics at the university, is doing his utmost to get me to the office of Sciascia’s publisher on time, worming along side streets, cutting across traffic jams loud with horns. Sciascia-a beautiful name, pronounced Sha-sha-is Sicily’s most distinguished living writer. His books are short, clear, drily sinister; vehicles for an intelligence which circumscribes a mystery. Everyone is tipping him for the Nobel Prize. I missed him last week. I mustn’t miss him today.
But we are late. Natale triple-parks in the local manner. Inside the Sellerio office, after the din of Palermo (which Sciascia has called “the incurable city”), all is literary hush and feminine cool. The publisher is a woman: the strong, the sweet, the oh-so-tired Elvira Sellerio, who is reputed never to have published a bad book. As far as I can make out, her premises are staffed entirely by women.
The Baronessa Renata Pucci-Zanca appears in red and black, arms spread wide. She hates my books but is fond of me and she will act as interpreter, because in Palermo there must be no misunderstandings. Shuffling about against a bookcase is Leonardo Sciascia himself, a slight retiring figure with yellowish wizened skin, in a grey suit. He was born in 1921 and looks older than his years. He looks very Sicilian, too – that is, suspicious and intelligent at the same time. We exchange greetings, after which he immediately picks up a book and buries his face in it, then looks out sideways with one sharp black eye. If he is worried-his behaviour suggests that peace of mind does not come easily to him-it is by something deeper than our late arrival (which apparently doesn’t bother him, a typically Sicilian courtesy). While a place with water jug and tumblers is organised for us to talk, he wanders from room to hushed room, disappearing round corners, reappearing in doorways, victim of a terrible physical unease.
“Signor Sciascia, do you like the modem world?”
“You’re a romantic.”
“No. Perhaps a man of the 18th century.”
“What sort of family do you come from?”
“Petit bourgeois? Or something more?” interpolates Renata.
“Something less. My father was an accountant in a sulphur mine. I know the world of the sulphur mines very well. They were between Caltanissetta and Agrigento and don’t exist any longer.”