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THE SICILIAN by Mario Puzo Kirkus Star

THE SICILIAN

By Mario Puzo

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0345441702
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster

Remember, in The Godfather, when Michael Corleone had to hide out in Sicily for a while before coming home to start taking over the Corleone empire? Well, Puzo goes back to that point here, to 1950, with Michael about to leave for America. First, however, on orders from his father, Michael must do his best to arrange for the safe escape to the US of Salvatore Giuliano, the real-life Robin Hood of Sicily. And, while Michael meets the fugitive Giuliano's family and friends, trying to win their trust, flashbacks--the bulk of the novel--fill in the history-based tale of the bandit's career, his run-ins with both the authorities and the local Mafia kingpin, Don Croce. The saga begins in 1943, when nice young "Turi"--shot by corrupt earabinieri for smuggling a piece of black-market cheese--kills in anger, instantly becoming a hunted man. With chum Aspanu Pisciotta, he takes to the hills, vowing to "strike for the cause of justice, to help the poor"--attracting a motley band of allies (a professor as well as a few cutthroats), freeing harmless prisoners from jail, stealing a noblewoman's jewelry, etc. And Turi's fearless doings attract the attention of postwar power-broker Don Croce, who's in need of a "warrior chieftain" to supplement his non-violent spread of Mafia control. But Turi, who yearns "to slay the dragon of the Mafia in Sicily," shrugs off Don Croce's offers of alliance; he even kidnaps a Prince who's under the Don's protection; the Don responds with assassination attempts--all foiled. (One super-assassin switches allegiances, becoming a trusted Turi lieutenant.) Eventually, however, with promises of a governmental pardon from the Mafia-linked Christian Democrats, Turi does agree to an anti-Communist alliance with Don Croce. . . only to be doubly betrayed. (Most painfully, Don Croce arranges for Turi to take the blame for a massacre of peasants.) So now, back in 1950, Turi is fed up, eager to leave for the US and publish his "Testament"--with proof of Mafia/government ties. But, before Michael Corleone can assist his escape, Turi is finally killed by Don Croce-thanks to the betrayal of his secretly envious right-hand man. (And, back in America, Michael will learn a lesson in cynicism--when his father decides to keep the Testament under wraps.) Godfather fans may be disappointed that this isn't a sequel, that Michael's role is so peripheral. And the character of noble, vengeful Turi is more cardboard than the chiaroscuro of Puzo at his best. (Cf. Jay Robert Nash's The Mafia Diaries, p. 881, for another interpretation of the bandit--and his Testament.) But, if relatively thin and tame, this episodic morality-play is still vigorous storytelling in the dark, bitter Puzo manner--with twisting loyalties, impassive vendettas, and corruption at every level, from the town barber to the Cardinal of Palermo.