An Italian family goes from poverty to prosperity and then to infamy in this brisk account of the persecution the Mafia brought to 1920s Italy, based on a true story.
Luigi Sacco is a day laborer in rural Raffadali who, by dint of his brains, hard work, and wish to make a family with the woman he loves, becomes a prosperous landowner with a large family. The Saccos are socialists, so all their advancements are done with an eye toward bettering the lots of those around them. When his son, Giovanni, sees a way to make a profit by replacing the horse-drawn cart that provides the only transportation to the provincial capital with a bus, he goes into partnership with the driver of the cart so as not to put him out of a job. It's not the Saccos' politics that the local Mafia can't abide so much as the money the family is making. Luigi's refusal to accede to extortion results in a decadeslong war, with family members dying, sons having to live as outlaws, and the dissipation of the Saccos' fortune. The local law is of no help, as the Mafia controls the police, judges, and the outcomes of most trials. The story reads like a researched version of a folk legend handed down over generations. The people are not fully developed characters as much as figures standing in for their fates—which is not a criticism but exactly what is to be expected when a story is told in this way. That doesn't keep the reader from longing for a bit more dramatization or, at least, the audiobook, where the right narrator could give this appalling and tragic story the fabulist element it needs.
The injustice here has an immediacy; the tale itself feels part of legend.