Three parablelike pieces of short fiction from Lampedusa (1896-1957), best known for The Leopard (1958), his sweeping novel about Sicilian aristocracy.
This trio of stories doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to determine if Lampedusa could have been a great short-form writer, but each is marked by an ironic wit and the intimate knowledge of Italian class distinctions that infuses The Leopard. “The Professor and the Siren” is narrated by a young journalist who allows himself to be routinely browbeaten for his ignorance by an aging scholar of ancient Greece. Set during the rise of fascism in Italy, the tale is an allegory about the perils of forgetting the past, but Lampedusa gives that message a lively and subtle cast, turning on the scholar’s alleged encounter with a mermaid. “Joy and the Law” is a brief comic story about a man whose Christmas bonus includes a large cake that proves to be a burdensome reminder of his obligations to others, and it’s as light as its “easy come, easy go” message. The closing, “The Blind Kittens,” is made of much more ambitious stuff and was written as the first chapter of a follow-up to The Leopard. Centered on the Ibba family, whose rapacious land grabs have made it one of the most powerful forces in Sicily, the story follows a group of men gossiping. As they exchange “envies, grudges, fears,” they also share rumors about the clan, and in their chatter lays a hint of a widescreen epic that would capture the family’s rise to power. But it has punch as a stand-alone story about jealousy, with a glint of humor: “[E]ach of them wished for Ibba’s millions so that others would invent similarly sumptuous lies about him,” Lampedusa writes.
Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.