The Unsettled Dust

SICILIANS AND GREEKS To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia, the Italian newspaper  La Repubblica is reissuing his books, one a week for twenty weeks. In theory, I have read most of them: when I first lived in Italy, I used to buy them at the newsstand in Rome’s Termini station just before boarding a train to Siena or Florence, back when trips that now take an hour and a half took a good four hours and the conductors would announce our arrival in person, out loud, their Tuscan accent pleasantly interrupting Sciascia’s Sicilian reveries. At that stage of my life, I had never been to Sicily. My Italian was little better than restaurant Italian. It didn’t matter: Sciascia’s ability to evoke an atmosphere and a psychology penetrated all the clouds of unknowing, so that the ugly hotel and corrupt politicians of Todo Modo and the Maltese forger of The Council of Egypt took up permanent lodging in my memories among other fantastic imagined people and places. Reading the books again, after years in Italy, is almost like reading them afresh. Most of all, perhaps, Sciascia’s present has become a historical past; for readers in their twenties today, the tangible realities of life in the 1960s and 1970s are no longer accessible experiences, not only the long-altered political and economic situations but also the tiny details of existence: telephones that took special grooved tokens, the smell of tobacco and sweat on a crowded bus, the formality, and the modesty, of everyday dress. And with a knowledge of Sicily, I can see now how Sciascia’s urge to tell a certain kind of story has emerged from the same sere, eroded volcanic landscape as the works of Luigi Pirandello and Andrea Camilleri, a terrain where implacable

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