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Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra Paperback – November 27, 2007


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Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra + On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal + Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426842
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is not a travel book, but rather a sophisticated attempt to make sense of the on-going prosecution of the 78-year-old seven-time prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, and of the intimate ties between the mafia and postwar Italian politics. An Australian by birth, Robb is not just parachuting in to gawk at the corruption that traded in votes, money, government contracts and even assassinations. A longtime resident of Naples, Robb adeptly puts the elusive world of organized crime (both Neapolitan and Sicilian) in a historical context that stretches back to the 19th century. In Sicily, however, organized crime is not an isolated institution and its pervasiveness is suggested by Robb's brilliant interweaving of writers such as Leonardo Sciascia, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Pier Paolo Pasolini and the artist Renato Guttuso. Many artists saw a connection between the rich food of Sicily and the mob, which Robb expertly exploits, even repeating an ironic quote from Andreotti himself: "I found myself with my stomach full of marvelous but terrible food, the pasta con le sarde, the cassata and not only did I not understand a thing there but I was ill too. I wonder whether there's a connection between food like this and the growth of the mafia." Those who treasured Excellent Cadavers, Alexander Stille's magnificent study of magistrates Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and the mafia "maxitrial," will appreciate Robb's epic story of evil and nobility.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The Mezzogiorno, or southern half of Italy below Rome, has always been considered exotic, untamed, and vaguely dangerous. Its people are a mix of Mediterranean and North African, with food, culture, and traditions that are mysterious and exotic to even its close northern compatriots. Robb (The Concept of Race in South Asia, Oxford Univ., 1997), a native Australian, lived in Italy for more than 14 years and writes an entertaining and richly textured expose of the place during those times. Having resided mostly in Palermo, he offers firsthand accounts of life there that include goings-on with the Mafia. He also gives insight into events of the mid-1990s, when seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti came to trial for corruption and murder; his association with organized crime has led to a continuing social and political tumult that has affected even the Vatican. In this richly detailed work, one feels the heat and tastes the canoli that the author describes. Robb currently lives again in Melbourne, where he has written for the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Recommended for Italian study collections.?David Nudo, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Overall a very entertaining "historical" book.
Rick
Not knowing much before about Italian culture, history and politics, Peter Robb's wonderful book has made me feel much more enlightened.
Ryan Lynch
This book is such a good read, especially if you love Italy or want to learn about the island of Sicily.
Dizzy Taylor

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 78 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on March 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Sicily is one of those places that has seemingly been picked clean by numerous waves of invaders, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, to in our own days the U.S. Army of Omar Bradley and George Patton. But was it really? There definitely remains a hard core of hardcore Sicilian-ness that finds its perfect expression in the mafia with all its traditions of silence, corruption, violence, and faithfulness onto death.
But how does one approach such a vast reserve of secrecy? Australian expatriate Peter Robb has hit upon a kind of double helix organizing principle that involves slowly rotating around its subject matter from several different points of view. In this helix are mixed food, history, culture, art, landscape, and all that is Sicily. We find Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Lucky Luciano, the painter Renato Guttuso, Michele Sindona, and the Vatican enmeshed in a kind of dance of death. But in the end, we are no closer to proof that arch-politician Giulio Andreotti sold his soul to Uncle Toto Riina of the Cosa Nostra.
Arriving at this proof is not Robb's goal. His spiralling book has taken it all in and fascinated us with stories of how the fork was invented, how di Lampedusa's talent was made known to the outside world, what happened to Palermo's Vucciria market, how Guttuso's friends were all kept from visiting the dying painter by a cabal of servants -- and perhaps by Andreotti?
This maddening book that goes nowhere and everywhere lacks only two things (for which I blame the publisher): maps and photographs. I kept getting lost, but I never lost interest. The lines of Eugenio Montale that form the book's epigraph describe it all:
History isn't
the devastating bulldozer they say it is.
It leaves underpasses, crypts, holes
and hiding places.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn Ferdinand (mferdinand@hfma.org) on August 22, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Midnight in Sicily is a must-read for anyone--especially any American--who has been seduced by "The Godfather" into believing that members of the mafia are outlaw heroes who keep their quarrels among themselves. Peter Robb systematically destroys such notions, and more sensitive readers might not be able to stomach the appalling bloodbath of mafiosi and innocents alike he carefully documents with near-insider agility. Equally appalling is the very real toll the mafia has taken on the fabric of Italian society, from the destruction of historic city centers and ways of life in Palermo and Naples to the undermining of honest government. We are made to feel very deeply for these losses because Robb makes us intimately acquainted with the food, art, history, and honest, good people that are variously maligned, shanghaied, and bulldozed for power and profit. Robb even has some sympathy for the "man of honor" ethos of the traditional and somewhat less destructive mafia, which ultimately led repentant mafiosi (pentiti) to take down the central villain of the story, "life senator" Giulio Andreotti. This is a fascinating book, written with passion. I loved it!
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Michael S. Swisher on September 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Peter Robb's memoir of time spent in the Italian mezzogiorno - chiefly Sicily, but also Naples - is partly a travel book, partly a commentary on art (especially the painter Renato Guttuso) and on literature (particularly the novelists Giuseppe di Lampedusa and Leonardo Sciascia), and partly a celebration of gastronomy. Mostly, however, it is about the power of organized crime in Italy, especially in the south, and its peculiar relationship (parasitic and symbiotic) with the Italian government.
The power of the mafia and camorra arose from the historic misrule of the mezzogiorno. Robb discusses their remote origins, but concentrates on events since the Allied liberation of Sicily in 1943. Mussolini had attempted to suppress the mafia, and both its Sicilian and American branches (the latter represented by "Lucky" Luciano) accordingly aided the U.S. army in driving out the fascists. The results, like those of U.S. aid to Islamic mujahideen resisting Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, demonstrate the way in which such alliances of convenience and "proxy warfare" can backfire. Robb describes how the Sicilian mafia subsequently established ties with the Christian Democratic Party (democristiani), with the tacit approval of the U.S. government and the Roman Catholic church, as an ally in the anti-communist cause. Even as this was taking place, mafiosi strengthened their connections with organized crime in other parts of the world, including the United States, and garnered unprecedented new wealth in the international drug trade. Necessary money-laundering was accomplished through penetration of the banking industry, both in Italy and abroad. Corruption of the government proceeded all the way to the top, including the prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Lynch on March 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Not knowing much before about Italian culture, history and politics, Peter Robb's wonderful book has made me feel much more enlightened. It uses as its central subject the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, but it goes so far beyond this. This is Robb's journey into the heart of all things Italian. Not only does he allow amazing insight and understanding into the mafia - a feat in itself - but he gives his readers knowledge about Mezzogiornio politics, art, culture, gastronomy, intelligentsia and more. His subjective overview is dotted with personalities which constantly recur throuhgout the book to haunt you, characters such as: Guilio Andreotti (former Prime Minister of Italy and member of the Cosa Nostra), Salvatore Riina (the ruthless boss of the Cosa Nostra), and the late Giovanni Falcone (the miliant Palermitan chief prosecutor who initiated the mafia maxitrial in the mid-1980s). Such is the ability of Robb as a writer, he is able to get interviews with key figures in this web of intrigue - a lot of which is reproduced in the book. He often quotes from writers such as Lampedusa and Sciascia who, we learn, knew more about Sicily than most. He puts you there, in the heart of Sicily: from his stuffy boat ride into the port at Palermo at midnight up until his final coffee at midnight in the Sant'Andrea Piazza. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in more than a historical account of Italy as it uncovers all that lies behind its mysterious beauty. Alone, this book is a triumph of the spirit, but to realise that this book was written by an outsider (an Australian) is to gasp in awe at what is a little masterpiece. 5 out of 5!
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