The beauty and tragedy
of the land of Sicily
in Andrea Camilleri’s
Even though cinema and television often portray them on the basis of prejudices or superficial knowledge, Sicilians are characterized by a far more complex depth. The works of the writer Andrea Camilleri have the ability of restoring the true humanity of these people, which makes them at the same time similar and multifaceted in dealing with a land that can cause wonder and pain
To describe Sicilians in the complexity of their contradictions is certainly not easy. Not even literature, especially if practiced by foreign writers eager to engage with this undertaking, has always been up to this task, let alone cinema or television. Sometimes, due to deeply rooted prejudices and stereotypes, many works of fiction end up representing a caricatural portrait of these people: from their exaggerated and not so elegant dialectal inflection to some gross and weird behaviors, without considering the ambiguous attribution of some thoughts on women. On the other hand, the opposite case often occurs too: the lack of awareness and closeness of those who try to talk about Sicily – or the bias of those who only know how to laud it – leads to a fictitious and cold representation, lacking in vitality and recognizability. How can one find the middle ground between these two opposites? If you’re looking for a good answer, you should look no further then Andrea Camilleri: both in his historical novels and in the works dedicated to the investigations of Salvo Montalbano, the writer from Porto Empedocle (Agrigento) has indeed been able to find the keystone, the secret potion to describe an authentic Sicily, in which everyone can proudly recognize themselves with a smile.
The writer himself has long been aware of this difficulty, given that, as he said, the Sicilians «have a prismatic character, that is, absolutely contradictory. It changes from person to person, from Sicilian to Sicilian». Yet, despite their many facets and the different stories that have marked the island’s history, Sicilians have the almost mystical ability to recognize their fellow citizens, to feel a sort of closeness of intent and spirit towards them. The writing of Camilleri has the rare characteristic of depicting both the positive and negative peculiarities of this land, so that, in the career of Montalbano, horrors and sufferings alternate with episodes of justice and solidarity; the mysteries and criminal intrigues are opposed to the integrity and the light of the best citizens of an island which is as beautiful as it is unfortunate. With a fresh, new and perhaps for this reason very realistic dialect, human and social misery are combined with the ingenuity and humor of a people used to face tragedies with its disruptive power of de-dramatization. Not to mention the historical fresco of those events that in the television transposition took the name of “Once upon a time, in Vigata”. For better or for worse, they describe those past events that have shaped the current ones, between poignant passions with a bitter outcome, paradoxical reversals, unresolved injustices and ominous appearances, but which often culminate in the resolution of the main case. And it is precisely in this continuous excursion between beauty and baseness, uncontrolled instincts and the intervention of reason, life and death, that lies the specificity of Camilleri’s literature.
A strong operation that is in some ways courageous, as it demonstrates the will of Camilleri to describe the entirety of a land that still amazes and moves everyone who comes into contact with it. In fact, his works do not hide the critical aspects of a reality that is sometimes elusive, incomprehensible and inextricable. On the contrary, they sweeten them describing the commitment of the healthy part of the population (whether it is famous or not), the part that is always ready to help the needy. After all, it is precisely this infinite circle what makes all Sicilians different and similar at the same time, but above all always authentic.
Translated by Eva Luna Mascolino