Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Feed, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Feed, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra

by Peter Robb

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In an intoxicating mix of crime, travel, and food writing, the author sets out to understand both the historic roots of the Mafia and its central place in contemporary Italian politics.  See more details below


In an intoxicating mix of crime, travel, and food writing, the author sets out to understand both the historic roots of the Mafia and its central place in contemporary Italian politics.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is not a travel book, but rather a sophisticated attempt to make sense of the on-going prosecution of the 78-year-old seven-time prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, and of the intimate ties between the mafia and postwar Italian politics. An Australian by birth, Robb is not just parachuting in to gawk at the corruption that traded in votes, money, government contracts and even assassinations. A longtime resident of Naples, Robb adeptly puts the elusive world of organized crime (both Neapolitan and Sicilian) in a historical context that stretches back to the 19th century. In Sicily, however, organized crime is not an isolated institution and its pervasiveness is suggested by Robb's brilliant interweaving of writers such as Leonardo Sciascia, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and the artist Renato Guttuso. Many artists saw a connection between the rich food of Sicily and the mob, which Robb expertly exploits, even repeating an ironic quote from Andreotti himself: "I found myself with my stomach full of marvelous but terrible food, the pasta con le sarde, the cassata and not only did I not understand a thing there but I was ill too. I wonder whether there's a connection between food like this and the growth of the mafia." Those who treasured Excellent Cadavers, Alexander Stille's magnificent study of magistrates Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and the mafia "maxitrial," will appreciate Robb's epic story of evil and nobility. (Mar.) (PW best book of 1998)
Library Journal
The Mezzogiorno, or southern half of Italy below Rome, has always been considered exotic, untamed, and vaguely dangerous. Its people are a mix of Mediterranean and North African, with food, culture, and traditions that are mysterious and exotic to even its close northern compatriots. Robb (The Concept of Race in South Asia, Oxford Univ., 1997), a native Australian, lived in Italy for more than 14 years and writes an entertaining and richly textured expos of the place during those times. Having resided mostly in Palermo, he offers firsthand accounts of life there that include goings-on with the Mafia. He also gives insight into events of the mid-1990s, when seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti came to trial for corruption and murder; his association with organized crime has led to a continuing social and political tumult that has affected even the Vatican. In this richly detailed work, one feels the heat and tastes the canoli that the author describes. Robb currently lives again in Melbourne, where he has written for the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Recommended for Italian study collections.David Nudo, "Library Journal"
Sandra Mardenfeld
Brilliantly juxtaposes essays on food and art with historical accounts.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
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 excursuson 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.

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Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Departures Series
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.82(d)

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