, in Italian, is a slaughter--in the instance Theresa Maggio relates, a springtime slaughter of bluefin tuna, the fish highly prized by sports fishermen and gourmands. In these elegant pages, Maggio describes the hard lives of Sicilian fishermen who chase the bluefin, reenacting a hunt that extends far back into prehistory and whose rituals, including that ceremonial massacre, have gone essentially unchanged for thousands of years.
Maggio, a former science writer at the Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, first traveled to her ancestral island in her early 30s. On the rocky coast of Favignana she witnessed her first mattanza, an unexpected "font of primal energy, beauty, and suffering, all in a tiny square of sea." After observing the coordinated efforts of the fishermen, who battled to drive the three-quarter-ton fish into a carefully constructed maze of net traps, Maggio came to develop an appreciation for the hunt in Sicilian village life. It is a ritual as laden with meaning as the buffalo hunt in Plains Indian cultures.
Maggio's memoir of life, death, and hard work in a dangerous sea joins with Peter Matthiessen's Men's Lives as a thoughtful study in human ecology. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
It is important to remember this slim book's subtitle. Its subject is in fact la mattanza (literally, the slaughter), the ancient and ritualistic blue-fin tuna catch that preoccupies fishing societies along the eastern Mediterranean beginning in early spring. Blue-fin tuna are "giants, eight-feet long, some bigger"; every year during la mattanza, hundreds of the tuna are caught and hauled up by teams of local fishermen. Maggio is a travel writer who has spent the last 15 years visiting the Sicilian island of Favignana, where the men who work the giant tuna traps have slowly accepted her as a part of their decidedly masculine circle. Her relationship with the island, its denizens and the waning glory of la mattanza tradition is both obsessive and tender. At her best, Maggio is a wry storyteller and a lyrical verbal landscapist. Perhaps unconsciously, she sometimes slips into the bare narrative of an absent but inescapable literary forebear--as if the very presence of muscled men wrestling with giants of the sea demands the voice of Hemingway. But hers is not a simple account of man vs. nature: it's an eloquent tribute to a unique community, where the local Madonna cradles a slippery fish in place of the Messiah and wild cats dine on homemade pasta served on paper plates. If the author asserts herself too frequently as the protagonist of her story, it is only because Favignana needs to be diluted with an outsider's curiosity in order to be digested. And after all, what is a love story without a lover? 30 b&w photos. 8-city author tour. (May)
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