To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia

I’m completely taken aback that I’ve never even heard of Sciascia before. I’m particularly surprised since my father was a fan of ‘crime’ fiction and built up an enormous library of them including much that was quite obscure, yet I see on our old database that we never stocked this author.

Lots has been written about his work – see Penkevich’s review on GR for a nice discussion of this particular book. I was particularly interested to see Vincenzo Salerno’s comment that ‘His rough and tumble literary style is not always captured in the English translation of his works, but the spirit is there.’ Certainly I admired the elegance of To Each His Own as I read it – my copy being the translation by Adrienne Foulke. And it may be relevant to note that the present translations of Ferrante have received similar criticism. I’d really hate Salerno’s observations on Sciascia to go missing, please do read them all, not just the start which I reproduce here:

“The conscience of Italy. Defiant by definition.” That’s how the late Leonardo Sciascia, one of the most popular authors of postwar Italy, has been described by his fellow Sicilians. In the words of Gore Vidal: “What is the mafia? What is Sicily? When it comes to the exploration of this particular hell… Sciascia is the perfect vigil.” To know the man one must know his world. It is the complicated world of Italian public opinion, in which Sciascia was novelist, polemicist, occasional politician, and perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize. In a philosophically eclectic environment typified by intolerant Leftist journalists and, at the opposite extreme, right-wing politicos, he was unafraid to write about moral and ethical issues. Not rarely, Sciascia took stands which were decidedly unpopular in late twentieth century Italy. If, like many prophets, he sometimes seemed more popular outside his own country, one should realize that, despite Sicily’s remarkable literary heritage, true intellectuals themselves are rarely respected, or even recognized, by the Sicilian public. Ethics and politics aside. In academia and in the press, six decades of sometimes hostile influences, ranging from Existentialism to Catholicism, from Communism to Neo-Fascism, have eroded the popular appreciation of objective social commentary. Even a superficial glance at Italian newspapers is sufficient to confirm that journalists in this country are obsessed with their own opinions, engaged in a bizarre egocentric ritual that takes precedence over unbiased reporting.

That Leonardo Sciascia transcended this violent maelstrom, subtly revealing society’s greatest challenges in Everyman’s life, leaves us with the impression of a master critic. Amidst a sea of pseudo-intellectual charlatans, his shone as an illuminated and creative talent. The essence of human insight. The real thing. It would not be unfair to say that Sciascia’s brief was to “set the record straight.” The young Italian student of political science, philosophy or law might well study something at university, thinking that she had finally reached one of life’s junctures in the quest for understanding its mysteries, only to have to reconsider those notions after reading a Sciascia novel. To his great credit, this most singular of authors was not particularly popular with Italian university professors. His greatest audience was, and is, the honest intellectual.

This was a speculative purchase at Antiquariaat Klikspaan in Leiden. In a town spoilt for choice bookshop wise, this one stole my affections, being splendidly old-fashioned. Piles of books everywhere. A bookcase just on chess. A really interesting array of literature. And prices which permit one to explore – much of the fiction is listed at between three and ten euros. I shall be forever grateful that it was here I discovered an author I will be sure to read in his entirety.

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