The Italian Riveter: Postcard from Sicily by Simonetta Agnello Hornby

Emperor Frederick II, son of the queen of Sicily, Costanza d’Altavilla, and patron of the arts, died in 1250, having founded the Sicilian School of Poetry, which gave birth to the sonnet, as was recognised by Dante. Had his dynasty survived the thirteenth century, the Italian language of today might be based on Sicilian rather than Tuscan.

In 1860, Sicily, conquered by Garibaldi, became part of Italy, and Sicilians felt the need to explain themselves to the Italians through novels. It began in Catania with Giovanni Verga, Federico De Roberto, Luigi Capuana and Ercole Patti; and then writers from all over the island started to write, such as Vitaliano Brancati and Geraldo Bufalino. After the Second World War, Leonardo Sciascia, Vincenzo Consolo and Andrea Camilleri (a great novelist, not just the father of Montalbano) have seen success.

After the double whammy of Gattopardo (‘The Leopard’) by Tomasi di Lampedusa – as a book and as a film – the way was opened to a huge number of Sicilian writers, male and female. The latter have surpassed the men: Maria Attanasio (in my opinion the greatest Sicilian female writer), Silvana Grasso, Silvana La Spina, Goliarda Sapienza, Stefania Auci, Alessia Gazzola, Nadia Terranova and Cristina Cassar Scalia. They dominate the bestseller list, and I’m proud of them.

Finally, I recommend reading Good Girls Don’t Wear Trousers by Lara Cardella, a nineteen-year-old girl from Licata, who in 1989 wrote this little masterpiece ‘against Sicily’s male-dominated society’. It sold two million copies.

By Simonetta Agnello Hornby


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