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MIDNIGHT IN SICILY by Peter Robb

MIDNIGHT IN SICILY

On Art, Food, History, Travel, and La Cosa Nostra

By Peter Robb

Pub Date: March 19th, 1998
ISBN: 0-571-19932-1
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 If it's true, as the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia once said, that Sicily is a metaphor for the modern world, then author Robb has plumbed the depths of the world. Midnight in Sicily is a work from another age and era. Perhaps only in the 18th and 19th centuries would a foreigner have attempted to write about art, food, history, travel, and the Mafia together. But it soon becomes apparent that in the hands of Robb the landscape of Sicily becomes a metaphor for its history; history is inextricably tied to food; food is inseparable from art. Again, it takes a foreigner to see Italy and Sicily in clearer terms than the Sicilians and Italians themselves. The heart of darkness in this tale is Giulio Andreotti, the most powerful politician in postwar Italy: seven-time prime minister and once hailed as the greatest political mind since Bismarck. Ironically, Andreotti is a Roman who sold his soul in Sicily in a Faustian bargain to secure a political power base from which to rule Italy practically undisturbed for decades. Robb, who has written for the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books, masterfully recreates scenes as benevolent as friends enjoying a meal or as diabolical as Andreotti's meeting with the most brutal crime boss in all of Italy. There are shrewd insights (``Beyond a certain threshold, power erases embarrassment''); telling phrases (Andreotti, leader of the Christian Democrats, is called a ``sacristy rat''); and deep political/historical revelations (such as Cosa Nostra's permanent aim of eliminating the historic memory built up by those few who've understood that Cosa Nostra was a state within a state). A barbecue becomes an occasion for a learned excursus on the history of the fork. This narrative is itself an eclectic and sumptuous meal that- -through no fault of the author's--leaves the diner with a bitter taste in the mouth.