LAMPEDUSA by Steven Price


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A historical novel based on the life of a revered Italian writer.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa only ever wrote one novel. The Leopard was based on the life of his great-grandfather and set during the Risorgimento, or the unification of Italy. The novel became a classic in Italy, but Tomasi didn’t live to see its success: He died of emphysema before the book was published. Price’s (By Gaslight, 2016, etc.) novel is based on Tomasi’s life at the time he was writing The Leopard. He was 60 years old, the last member of an aristocratic Sicilian family, and he was growing more and more ill. In Price’s telling, Tomasi is a sweet, shy, soft-spoken man. He spends his days at bookstores and cafes, reading voraciously. In the evenings, Tomasi gives informal lectures on English literature to a couple of students while his wife, a psychoanalyst (unusual for the time—it’s 1955), sees patients. The novel traces his writing of The Leopard as well as his memories of his childhood and adolescence. Price’s writing is lyrical, though he slips sometimes into a certain preciousness; some passages are overwritten, even overwrought. Other than that, this is a quiet novel without a blaring plot. Tomasi writes, thinks, and remembers and struggles to tell his wife the truth about his illness. His “student friends”—Giò; his fiancee, Mirella; and Orlando—are almost like children to him. They’re also a kind of advance guard of a new, modern age, which Tomasi recognizes his alienation from. History, he knows, is passing him by, and Price shows how Tomasi works that understanding into his own novel.

A lyrical and sensitive portrait of a man nearing the end of his life.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-21224-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2019


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