A gathering of fiction and nonfiction pieces by di Lampedusa (1896-1957), best known as the author of The Leopard, a magnificently dramatic tale closely drawn from the author's own aristocratic world in Sicily at the turn of the century. This volume is exciting for the insight it provides into the evolution of that masterpiece through the original text of a previously abridged memoir, ""Places of My Infancy."" The collection also includes ""The Professor and the Siren,"" an enchantingly sensual, fablelike story, and two other short stories, ""Joy and the Law"" and ""The Blind Kittens"" (the latter is the remaining fragment of an unfinished novel). The memoir evokes the author's Sicilian childhood and home, which he loved with ""utter abandon"" until that life vanished with the Risorgimento. Di Lampedusa reminisces about the the palace-size 18th-century house (""a self-sufficient entity . . . a kind of Vatican as it were"") and about the garden, ""brim full of surprises."" By contrast, ""Joy and the Law"" is a tale that chronicles morality and honor, set against the corruption that then dominated Sicily. The story also hints, in its style, at di Lampedusa's admiration for Dickensian narrative. The collection's centerpiece, however, is a sampling of his short essays (appearing in English for the first time) about his favorite literary icons, including Austen, Stendhal, and Shakespeare, written as notes to lectures he intended for a small group of students. These essays are intuitive and highly anecdotal, yet thoroughly informed. Literature was di Lampedusa's consolation, as his wife observed, for any moment ""when he saw something disagreeable."" He might, indeed, as translator Gilmour comments, have ""sacrificed ten years of his life . . . for the privilege of meeting Sir John Falstaff."" This gem of a volume offers delightful glimpses of a writer worthy of attention well beyond the university circles that have until now adulated him.