Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

The LeopardThe Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read The Leopard written by the wealthy Sicilian prince, Giuseppe Tomasi, Principe di Lampedusa (1896-1957), forty odd years ago and with age, my reaction has changed a bit. While I still appreciate the beautiful quality of the writing, the pace and the characterizations, I now relate more to the Prince and his thoughts about aging and change and history. He is melancholic, weary, cruel, yet still proud and elegant and seems to understand his situation. His once solidly exalted position as a nobleman is slipping away with Garabaldi's destruction of the Bourbon monarchy and he knows it. He is dying, as is his way of life, and he views his demise as consolation. He meets his nephew’s future father-in-law, the nouveau riche Don Calogero, with equanimity:

"Many problems that had seemed insoluble to the Prince were resolved in a trice by Don Calogero […] he moved through the jungle of life with the confidence of an elephant which advances in a straight line, rooting up trees and trampling down lairs, without even noticing scratches of thorns and moans from the crushed."

So many of the descriptions of the Prince, his courtesy, his lust, his confidence and complexity; the elaborate food served and those who devour it at his palace; the personalities of the characters, the servile but intelligent priest, the stalwart hunting companion, the whining wife, the proud, pious daughters, all seem to represent some aspect of Sicily or depict facets of the Sicilian character (which I’m so well positioned to comment on after a 3-week trip to Sicily last month! Not.) As the Prince says of his country when offered a position in the government,

"For more than twenty-five centuries we’ve been bearing the weight of a superb and heterogeneous civilization, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that of we could call our own. […] I don’t say that in complaint; it’s our fault.
This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and these monuments, even, of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing around like lovely mute ghosts; all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction, who were at once obeyed, soon detested, and always misunderstood, their only expressions works of art we couldn’t understand and taxes which we understood only too well and which they spent elsewhere: all these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind."
As the book moves forward to the ball and the Prince observes those around him, he acknowledges the excess of his class, the inbreeding observed in the silly women at the party exclaiming “Maria.” He is calm and resolute. It is a well-drawn portrait of a complex man at a crucial time in Sicilian history.

View all my reviews

Hourglass: time, memory, marriage by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass: Time, Memory, MarriageHourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything about this book struck a chord in me, the collage structure which winds back and forth through the years as one's mind does, the thoughts about marriage, about time. the snippets of memory, the comments on writing and teaching. I actually stalled so it wouldn't be finished. And then she concludes before a final journal entry from her honeymoon:

"Already my mind is a kaleidoscope. Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds. A song comes on the radio and now I am nursing my baby to sleep...I am...looking into his father's eyes for the first time, I am burying my own father. My mother. I am a girl watching her mother at her vanity table. I am holding M's hand a Jacob's college graduation. I am playing with my grandchildren in a house on a mountain. The phone rings. The doorbell. I understand something terrible with a thud in my heart. The plane, the car, the train, the bomb. The test results are ominous. I am wheeling M. down a corridor. We are playing golf in Arizona. We are homeless. We are living in Covent Garden, where we often attend the theater. Pick a card. Any card."

View all my reviews