Leonardo Sciascia was one of Italy’s greatest writers, but he will probably be best remembered for what he brought to an understanding of Sicily, where he was born and lived most of his life. It is his articulation of Sicilian identity and the Sicilian predicament, including the impact of the mafia, through his novels like Il Giornod ella Civetta (‘The Day of the Owl’) and Il Contesto (‘Equal Danger’) for which he is most revered. Born in the working class town of Racalmuto, in the province of Agrigento, most known for its sulphur mining, (his father worked as a clerk for the mines), the hopes and fears of his Sicilian neighbours were often foremost in his writing. These included one of his early novels Le Parrocchie di Regalpetra, (published in the English version as Salt in the Wound).Regalpetra was an imaginary town near his own Racalmuto. The novel allows him to discuss the history of his own land, ‘an island within an island’, and the impact political events have on the town.
It was his interrogation of the mafia in his novels that gained him much early attention. One of the first writers to openly discuss and characterise mafia culture, he did so in a form which avoided happy endings or romanticism, yet in the character of his detectives and other characters kept the search for wider truth and justice foremost. As such the force of his writing helped produce a broader investigation of society, people and power in Italy.
His interrogation of power and its abuses prompted him to take a larger public role. Like many Italian writers, his early political commitments were to the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and he was once elected to represent them on Palermo city council. After their ‘historic compromise’ with the Christian Democrats in the late 1970s, he left the PCI and was later elected as an MEP for the Radical Party. The late 1970s were a period of tension and crisis in the Italian state with kidnappings and other acts of terrorism, against the background of an unaccountable political class. Following the kidnapping and murder of the former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, Sciascia completed a gripping analysis of the underlying political circumstances in L’affaire Moro (The Moro Affair) a further example of his concern for truth and justice.
The public esteem held for the former Racalmuto schoolteacher was evident in the translation of his work into many languages and mutual respect between him and other Italian intellectuals, including his close friend Renato Guttuso, Pier Paolo Pasolini and others. His works, translations and correspondence are now kept in the Fondazione Sciascia in Racalmuto and well worth a visit. http://www.fondazioneleonardosciascia.it/