Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Rise and Fall of the Sicilian Mafia


Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-64658-5
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Close-up study of the Sicilian Mafia, which is both different from its American counterpart and very much the same.

A British writer of Italian descent, Maran holds the view, discounted in some sources, that there are really two Mafias: the old, honorable one that provided order in a time of banditry and oppression, and the one that “ruled the roost for the second half of the twentieth century”—the Mafia of Godfather fame, which had everything to do with organized crime but little to do with the parent organization. That old Mafia, the author argues, came about some 80 years after Freemasonry and other movements associated with the early Enlightenment became current, and he links the Mafia’s notions of fraternity and equality to those ideals. Yet the fraternity was comprised of foot soldiers who often served big landowners to be sure the peasants didn’t get too many ideas about equality, and the equality was a democracy of criminals. So thought Benito Mussolini, who committed the full weight of the Italian state to uprooting the Mafia, long since entrenched in every aspect of Sicilian society, which had an ironic unintended consequence. Mafiosi who could demonstrate antifascist credentials “were rewarded with positions of power and influence, thus restoring them to their previous roles” once the American Army arrived in 1943. The result was the opening of American ports to all manner of contraband, courtesy of the new version of the Mafia, led by men who “are seen by some Sicilians as gangsters who started getting rich on government public spending and who then graduated to the drug industry.” It is this Mafia, Maran writes, that persists today, exemplified by hoods such as Salvatore Riina, against whom the Italian state is once again fighting an all-out war.

Less immediate than Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah (2007) and less engaging than George De Stefano’s An Offer We Can’t Refuse (2006), though still of interest to fans of true-crime stories—and there are many in these pages.