In this odd, interesting novel, the author of previous works on social and economic problems in his native Sicily takes off obliquely in an enigmatic tale of forgery, Sicilian politics in 1782, and the nature of reality. An itinerant chaplain, Don Vella, sees a way to fortune by rewriting an Arabic manuscript and forging histories of the Moslems in Sicily, which gives the King ""precedent"" for claiming many hereditary lands from the nobles. Yet, even when exposed, Don Vella suffers few consequences; he has merely been playing with the past, with imagination and the fraudulence of his society, and gains a kind of artist's immunity, despite the real effects of his forgery. His young friend, the lawyer Di Blasi, heads an idealistic and much less practically effective plot to establish ""the equality of men."" He is tortured and decapitated. Di Blasi, however ineptly, is dealing with reality and the present, and must suffer accordingly. Told coolly and with great style, this is a wry, provocative study of ideas versus acts.