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Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily Hardcover – April, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A mattanza, 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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; 1st edition (April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073820269X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738202693
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mattanza Love and Death In The Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio pulls you into the world of the men and customs found only on this small island.
Theresa Maggio not only tells a wonderful story, but she is able to paint the scenes and views she has seen into the readers mind. You can see the colorful boats owned by the fishermen, smell the drying nets as they hang in the damp cannery building, and feel the warm sun as she rides her bike from her tiny room into the piazza to wait for her voyage to the chamber of death out at sea.
I am always looking in the NYT travel section for Miss Maggio's travel stories which have appeared over the years. Her photographs are wonderful and revealing of a time and tempo of the villages she visits and shares with us.
Her book is scientifically accurate, honest and a very lovely read.
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Format: Hardcover
I find Theresa Maggio's fluid style of writing makes me feel that I have actually witnessed what she has described through words. After reading "Mattanza", I felt sad that this ritual is a dying traditon. Maggio has captured another world and brought it into our culture. Thank You Ms. Maggio for this armchair adventure.
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Format: Hardcover
Theresa Maggio has an incredible gift--the ability to write in a way so as to make the reader feel the experiences as opposed to just observing. MATTANZA is an incredible read--a journey of the heart and soul in the exotic beauty of Italy. A MUST-READ!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was fascinating! Theresa's story will captivate you as you go to Sicily's Egadi Islands. She documents the history of the Mattanza and the people who live their life on the sea. This true story of love and death will make excellent reading on the beack or by the pool this summer.
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Format: Hardcover
Theresa Maggio has a beautiful writing style, which is very descriptive.
The book, "Mattanza," begins with a bang, when Maggio describes the first time she views the trapping and killing of bluefin tuna. As I read her description of the mattanza, I found it awesome, fascinating and sad. I could actually visualize the fishermen and the giant bluefin tuna. I could envision both fishes and men struggling to win their own goal - life. The origins of the mattanza ritual are interesting. Maggio explains it in such a way that keeps you wanting to know more.
I also enjoyed the fact that the book is not only about the mattanza. It is also about Maggio's stay in Favignana -- the people she met, her relationship with them and the fishermen. After reading the book, I felt as if I knew and understood the fishermen who perform the mattanza.
If you're looking for a different book on Italy, a place where classical mythology is said to have occurred, a book filled with interesting natural history facts, culture, and sprinkled with a little romance, "Mattanza" is the book for you!
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Format: Hardcover
Theresa Maggio has done us a favor by providing a well-written book about a subject little-known to the English-speaking world: I refer to the mattanzas, or communal bluefin tuna kills, that have been a feature of Sicilian life for over a thousand years. In the process, she has introduced us to dozens of colorful characters and an obscure island off the northwest coast of Sicily.
Curiously, it is the Japanese -- not the Italians -- for whom most of the tuna is reserved. They have factory ships offshore for processing the tuna into sushi and packing it to fly back home under ice. These mattanzas are intensely covered by the Japanese news media, as Ms. Maggio shows, because bluefin sushi is highly desirable, rare, and goes for astronomical prices in Tokyo.
Over the last two or three decades, the number of tuna and their size has declined steadily. One reason is that, at the time the book was written, European fishermen had overfished the tuna using purse seines. Off the coast of North America, stricter controls are in effect to allow the species to recover.
The process of luring the tuna into the elaborate traps for the mattanza is complex and deeply embedded in Sicilian lore. It calls for patience, strength, courage, and wiliness -- qualities which are fast disappearing as the knowledge has not been passed on due to the decreasing number of old hands available to impart the knowledge.
The only failure of the book is not the author's, but the publisher's. Explanatory photos and more schematics than the single one (in Italian) appearing on the front and rear endpapers are essential to support the text. There are some small photos that are marginally discernible, but plates would have been better. The mattanza is a complicated event, and I feel this is a serious omission. In every other way, I wholeheartedly recommend Maggio's work.
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By PatRad on November 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sicilians perform dramatic killing rituals. Traveling lady gets down with the local men. Greed destroys nature and wrecks a proud island culture.
Whatever way you cut it, this is a passionate jewel of a book. I can't imagine how many drafts the author wrote to distill her years of meticulous note-taking. Every chapter has a photo or drawing, a delightful touch that only suggests the thousands of such shots she must have taken.
Maggio's sensuous observations of the island, her candid personal impressions, and her subtle political commentary will make you think -- and sweat.
(This review refers to the earlier edition with the less hyped title.)
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