Traveling by Book – The Leopard (Sicily)
After a trip to Sicily, Amazon kept recommending The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa to me. No matter what else I bought or added to my wish-list, the Leopard did not budge from the number one spot so I figured I might as well give in. What I found was a true gem of a novel with marvelous characters that inhibited a living Sicily.
The Leopard tells the story of the Prince, a noble in mid-19th century Italy, facing an uncertain future threatened by political revolution and economic flux. He is clearly a proud man born and raised with aristocratic tastes and manners. The novel is sympathetic to the out-dated great man but it is interesting to watch as he lets the changing world pass him without even trying to keep up. The book is not driven by plot per say as it only covers a few full days. The beauty lies in the characters who muse about the mundane and fleeting pleasures of their lives – the Prince’s favorite dog, the childish crushes of the Prince’s daughters, the priest’s political and family troubles. It’s both nostalgic and comfortable, like picnicking with friends telling stories.
I think what made these docile characters really work though was the setting. There is a dry heat that permeates the novel and slows the characters making their speech quiet and steps deliberate so as not to kick up too much dust. Their palaces are thick with detail and you can imagine the flies in their summer countryside manor. Maybe it’s not fair because I read this after visiting Sicily, but I could perfectly pictured these people in its arid countryside and echoing stone streets. The Prince has a brilliant monologue at one point about Sicilians claiming that they are a steady, consistent people who having been conquered over and over throughout the centuries and cannot be troubled by anything outside their world. In traveling western Sicily, I found the pace of life slow (even by Italian standards!) and was surprised how rocky and harsh the landscape was. A story of waning power and decline seems well-suited for this environment. I appreciated the rich descriptions of places and people in The Leopard and would recommend it to anyone looking for a book vacation to an often-forgotten, quiet corner of the Mediterranean.