Title: The Sicilian.
Author: Mario Puzo.
Genre: Fiction, mafia, crime.
Publication Date: November, 1984.
Summary: The year is 1950. Michael Corleone is nearing the end of his exile in Sicily. The Godfather has commanded Michael to bring a young Sicilian bandit named Salvatore Guiliano (based on a real-life Sicilian bandit, Salvatore Giuliano) back with him to America. But Guiliano is a man entwined in a bloody web of violence and vendettas. In Sicily, Guiliano is a modern day Robin Hood who has defied corruption - and defied the Cosa Nostra. Now, in the land of mist-shrouded mountains and ancient ruins, Michael Corleone's fate is entwined with a dangerous legend of Salvatore Guiliano: warrior, lover, and the ultimate Siciliano.
My rating: 7/10
My review: I had to think for a while what I thought about this book because, in the end, it's not very strong, but it has some striking elements that appealed to me a lot. Unlike in The Godfather, with Don Corleone, Puzo doesn't seem to have a very personal connection with and admiration for Guiliano, which makes his description of him come off extremely cliché and over-the-top. He's way too noble, smart, and good at what he does, and without a distinguishable personal sentiment of the author, he just comes off a little 2-dimensional and unrealistic. Nevertheless, though, the noble, danger-filled adventures of him and his band of "honourable" criminals is exciting and fast-paced, and definitely draws you in. I will have to say that my favourite character in this book by far was Sicily. You can feel the author's incredible love and respect for it, though he describes its downfalls frankly and without sentiment. I had never been to Sicily, but I could almost smell the air, taste it, imagine the mountains and fields so clearly - Puzo describes it so poignantly and lovingly it's hard not to love it and marvel at it along with him. If nothing else, that aspect alone made the book worth reading for me, because I adore what I know of Italy myself, and my heart simply resonated with the Italy in this novel.
♥ Palermo rested in the bottom of a bowl created by an extinct volcano, overwhelmed by mountains on three sides, and escaping into the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean Sea on the fourth side. The city shimmered in the golden rays of the Sicilian noon-time sun. Veins of red light struck the earth, as if reflecting the blood shed on the soil of Sicily for countless centuries. The gold rays bathed stately marble columns of Greek temples, spidery Moslem turrets, the fiercely intricate façades of Spanish cathedrals; on a far hillside frowned the battlements of an ancient Norman castle. All left by diverse and cruel armies that had ruled Sicily since before Christ was born. Beyond the castle walls, cone-shaped mountains held the slightly effeminate city of Palermo in a stranger's embrace, as if both were sinking gracefully to their knees, a cord pulling tightly around the city's neck. Far above, countless tiny red hawks darted across the brilliant blue sky.
♥ "Yes, Guiliano's Testament. He thinks it will save his life or at least avenge his death." He spoke directly to Michael. "Remember this. Rome fears the Testament, but I do not. And tell his parents what is written on paper affects history. But not life. Life is a different history."
♥ Michael thought, What the hell was the man saying? Why couldn't he get a straight answer from any of them? Because this was Sicily, he thought. Sicilians had a horror of truth. Tyrants and Inquisitors had tortured them for the truth over thousands of years. The government in Rome with its legal forms demanded the truth. The priest in the confessional box commanded the truth under pain of everlasting hell. But truth was a source of power, a lever of control, why should anyone give it away?
♥ ...and to be caught in the vortex of a Sicilian vendetta was suicidal. For the Sicilian believes that vengeance is the only true justice, and that it is always merciless. On this Catholic island, statues of a weeping Jesus in every home, Christian forgiveness was a contemptible refuge of the coward.
♥ "Tell the truth, all Sicilians prefer smelling the shit of their villages to the best perfumes in Paris. What am I doing here? I could have escaped to Brazil like some others. Ah, we love where we are born, we Sicilians, but Sicily does not love us."
♥ Hector Adonis shrugged. History consoled him.
♥ Again it was like the English he so much admired, those people who could be so subtly rude that you basked in their insults for days before you realized they had mortally wounded you.
♥ The Sicilian peasant has an affinity with his mule and donkey. They are hard-working beasts, and like the peasant himself have flinty, dour natures. Like the peasant they can work steadily for very long hours without breaking down, unlike the higher-nobility horse, who must be pampered. Also, they are sure-footed and can pick their way along the mountain terraces without falling and breaking a leg, unlike the fiery stallions or the high-blooded, flighty mares. Also, peasant and donkey and mule subsist and thrive on food that kills other men and animals. But the greatest affinity was this: Peasant, donkey and mule had to be treated with affection and respect, otherwise they turned murderous and stubborn.
♥ Maria Lombardo Guiliano kept watching, as if she would never see them again, until they disappeared in the late morning mist around the mountaintop. They were vanishing into the beginning of their myth.
♥ No, the hatred of the peasant Sicilian could never be taken lightly. True Christians, they would never shame a statue of the Virgin Mary, but in the hot blood of vendetta they would shotgun the Pope himself for breaking omerta, the ancient code of silence to any authority. In this land with its countless statues of Jesus, there was no belief in the doctrine of turning the other cheek. In the benighted land "forgiveness" was the refuge of the coward. The Sicilian peasant did not know the meaning of mercy.
♥ It was not intelligent to damage the ego of a young man, Adonis thought. The police never understood that you can, with some impunity, insult an older man who has already been humiliated by life itself and will not take to heart the small slights of another human being. But a young man thinks these offenses mortal.
♥ The police raid was based on the assumption that the targets would never be in a position to launch the counterattack; that their only alternative would be to run from a superior force. Turi Guiliano at that moment made it a basic principle always to be in a position to counterattack when he was being hunted, no matter how great the odds, or perhaps the greater the odds the better.
♥ He would never obey a fellow human being again. He would choose who should live and who should die, and there was no doubt in his mind that all he would do would be for the glory and freedom of Sicily, for good and not for evil. That he would only strike for the cause of justice, to help the poor. That he would win every battle, that he would win the love of the oppressed.
He was twenty years old.
♥ "Mafia," in Arabic, means a place of sanctuary, and the word took its place in the Sicilian language when the Saracens ruled the country in the tenth century. Throughout history, the people of Sicily were oppressed mercilessly by the Romans, the Papacy, the Normans, the French, the Germans, and the Spanish. Their governments enslaved the poor working class, exploiting their labor, raping their women, murdering their leaders. Even the rich did not escape. The Spanish Inquisition of the Holy Catholic Church stripped them of their wealth for being heretics. And so the "Mafia" sprang up as a secret society of avengers. When the royal courts refused to take action against a Normal noble who raped a farmer's wife, a band of peasants assassinated him. When a police chief tortured some petty thief with the dreaded cassetta, that police chief was killed. Gradually the strongest-willed of the peasants and the poor formed themselves into an organized society which had the support of the people and in effect became a second and more powerful government. When there was a wrong to be redressed, no one ever went to the official police, they went to the leader of the local Mafia, who mediated the problem.
The greatest crime a Sicilian could commit was to give any information of any kind to the authorities about anything done by the Mafia. They kept silent. And this silence came to be called omerta. Over the centuries the practice enlarged to never giving the police information about a crime committed even against oneself. All communications broke down between the people and the law enforcement agencies of reigning governments so that even a small child was taught not to give a stranger the simplest directions to a village or a person's house.
Through the centuries the Mafia governed Sicily, a presence so shadowy and indistinct that the authorities could never quite grasp the extent of its power. Up until World War II, the word "Mafia" was never uttered on the island of Sicily.
♥ The Fascists had gone back to the days of the Inquisition, of the divine right of kings. Don Croce had never believed in the divine right of kings, indeed he asserted that no reasonable human being had ever believed in it except when the alternative was being torn apart by four wild horses.
♥ Could he say exactly what he thought? Would his godfather think him insanely proud? But he went on. "I am not afraid of dying." He smiled at Hector Adonis, the boyish smile Adonis knew so well and loved. "Really, I'm astonished by it myself. But I'm not afraid of being killed. It doesn't seem possible to me." He laughed aloud. "Their field police, their armored carts, their machine guns, all of Rome. I'm not afraid of them. I can beat them. The mountains of Sicily are full of bandits. Passatempo and his band. Terranova. They defy Rome. What they can do, I can do."
Hector Adonis felt a mixture of amusement and anxiety. Had the wound affected Guiliano's brain? Or was what he saw now the same as the beginning of history's heroes, the Alexanders, the Caesars, the Rolands? When did the dreams of heroes begin, if not when sitting in a lonely glen, talking to dear friends.
♥ Even when they were boys Pisciotta had showed a practical cunning. Guiliano had been the generous believer in the goodness of man, and proud of his own truthfulness. In those days Hector Adonis had often thought that Pisciotta would be the leader when they were men, Guiliano the follower. But he should have known better. A belief in one's own virtue is far more dangerous than a belief in one's cunning.
♥ But that night before they went to sleep, they embraced each other. "You are my brother," Guiliano said. "Remember that." Then they wrapped themselves in their blankets and slept away the last night of their obscurity.
♥ In the bright morning sunlight that lit their mountains with gold they all three listened to Guiliano, spellbound as he told how they would lead the fight to make Sicilians a free people, uplift the poor and destroy the power of the Mafia, the nobility and Rome. They would have laughed at anyone else, but they remembered what everyone who saw it would always remember: the Corporal of the carabinieri raising the pistol to Guiliano's head. The quiet stare of Guiliano, his absolute confidence that he would not die, as he waited for the Corporal to pull the trigger. The mercy he had shown to the Corporal after the pistol misfired. These were all acts of a man who believed in his own immortality and forced others to share that belief. And so now they stared at the handsome young man, and they were impressed by his beauty, his courage and his innocence.
♥ Preparing the communal evening meal sometimes caused arguments. Every village in Sicily had a different recipe for squid and eels, disagreed on what herbs should be disbarred from the tomato sauce. And whether sausages should ever be baked. Men partial to the knife for murder liked to do laundry; the kidnappers preferred the cooking and sewing chores. The raiders of banks and trains stuck to cleaning their guns.
♥ For centuries, kidnapping of the rich had been one of the cottage industries of Sicily. Usually the kidnappers were the most fearsome of Mafiosi, who had merely to send a letter before the kidnapping. This would be in the polite form, to the effect that to avoid troublesome details the ransom be paid in advance. Like a wholesaler's discount for immediate cash payment, the ransom would be considerably less because all the irritating details, such as the actual kidnapping, did not have to be performed. For in all truth, such a thing as kidnapping a famous personage was not as easy as people thought it was. It was not a business for greedy amateurs or scatterbrained lazy good-for-nothings who refused to work for a living. Nor was it ever the harebrained, suicidal event that it was in America, where its practitioners had given kidnapping a bad name. Even the word "kidnapping" was not used in Sicily, since children were not held for ransom unless they were accompanied by an adult. For say what you would of a Sicilian: that they were born criminals, that they murdered as easily as a woman picks flowers, that they were cunningly treacherous as Turks, that they were socially three hundred years behind the times; yet no one could dispute that Sicilians loved, no, they idolized children. So there was no such thing called kidnapping in Sicily. They would "invite" a rich person to be their guest, and he could not be released until he had paid room and board, as in a fine hotel.
♥ And this was no uncommon in Italy. The lower classes were treated cruelly only when they fought for their economic rights.
♥ Now his face looked down from the oval portrait almost kindly, in a benediction. Only the eyes and mouth betrayed his ferocity. And yet at the same time there was a resignation in that face, as if he knew what his fate must be. Like all who raised their hands against the world and tore from it what they wished by violence and murder, like others who made personal law and tried to rule society with it, he must come finally to sudden death.
♥ Michael looked around the beautiful garden with its many colored flowers, fragrant lemon trees, the old statues of the gods dug from ancient ruins, other newer ones of holy saints, the rose-colored walls around the villa. It was a lovely setting for the examination of twelve murderous apostles.
♥ "Turi always knew what the end might be and wanted to be prepared. For a young man he has a great sense of strategy."
Michael laughed. "And his mother is a great actress."
"All Sicilians are," Hector Adonis said. "We trust no one and dissemble before everyone."
♥ The peasants of Sicily who had voted for the left-wing parties and elected to abolish their beloved king would have been astonished to learn of the anger of all these high personages. They would have been amazed that the powerful nations of the United States, France and Great Britain were concerned that Italy was going to become an ally of Russia. Many of them had never even heard of Russia.
The poor people of Sicily, presented with the gift of a democratic vote for the first time in twenty years, had simply voted for the candidates and political parties that promised them the opportunity to purchase their own little bit of land for a minimal sum.
But they would have been horrified to know that their vote for the left-wing parties was a vote against their family structure, a vote against the Virgin Mary and the Holy Catholic Church whose holy images lit by red candles adorned every kitchen and bedroom in Sicily; horrified to know that they had voted to turn their cathedrals into museums and banish their beloved Pope from the shores of Italy.
No. The Sicilians had voted to be given a piece of land for themselves and their families, not for a political party. They could not conceive of any greater joy in life; to work their own land, to keep what they produced by the sweat of their brow, for themselves and their children. Their dream of heaven was a few acres of grain, a vegetable garden terraced on a mountainside, a tiny vineyard of grapes, a lemon tree and an olive tree.
♥ For nearly four years Guiliano had distributed hundreds of millions of lire and food to the poor in his corner of Sicily, but he could only really help them by seizing some sort of power.
The books on economics and politics that Adonis brought him to read troubled him. The course of history showed that the left-wing parties were the only hope for the poor in every country except for America.
♥ Pisciotta recognized the truth of this. With each day he felt a growing amazement that Guiliano who was so open and honest in his feelings could fathom the twisted schemes of his enemies. He realized that at the root of Guiliano's romanticism was the brilliant penetration of paranoia.
♥ He knew Pisciotta liked the life of an outlaw. It fitted his character, and though he was quick-witted and cunning, he did not have imagination. He could not make a jump into the future and see the inescapable fate that awaited them as outlaws.
♥ He could see Turi Guiliano's face clearly and in detail—the oval eyes, the clean planes of his face, the generous mouth now pressed tight; and he knew that the strength in his face was the strength of virtue, and thought it was a pity that virtue was not a more merciful asset. For it was terrible indeed when it was pure, as the Prince knew this was to be pure.
♥ And he felt anger against this very multitude of people he was helping. Why were they so docile, so fearful? If only he could arm and lead them he could forge a new Sicily. But then he felt a wave of pity for these poorly clad, nearly starved peasants, and he raised his arm in a salute to encourage them. The crowd remained silent.
♥ Since becoming an outlaw Guiliano had always distrusted love. To him it was an act of submission and held the seed of a fatal treachery, but in that moment he felt what he had never felt before—a suffusion in his body to kneel before another human being and willingly swear himself into an alien slavery. He did not identify this as love.
♥ "You should have heeded the old proverb. 'The man who plays alone never loses.'"
♥ Michael said impulsively, "Come with us to America."
Pisciotta shook his head. "I have lived in Sicily all of my life and I have loved my life. And so I must due in Sicily if I must. Burt thank you.:"
Michael was strangely moved by these words. Even with his scant knowledge of Pisciotta, he sensed that this was a man who could never be transplanted from the earth and mountains of Sicily. He was too fierce, too bloodthirsty; his coloring, his voice were all of Sicily. He could never trust a strange land.
♥ Pisciotta was clever, but as young men are clever—that is, her did not give full weight to the hidden terror and evil in the hearts of the best of men.
♥ Michael said, "I never really understood what the hell was happening, I never could get the sides right. You told me to trust Don Croce, but Guiliano hated him. I thought the Testament being held by you would keep them from killing Guiliano, but they killed him anyway. And now when we release the Testament to all the newspapers, they will have cut their own throats."
He saw his father looking at him coolly. "That is Sicily," the Don said. "There is always treachery within treachery."
♥ "You wanted to learn," he said. "Now listen to me. A man's duty is to keep himself alive. Then comes what everyone calls honor. This dishonor, as you call it, I willingly take upon myself. I did it to save your life as you once took on dishonor to save mine. You would never have left Sicily alive without Don Croce's protection. So be it. Do you want to be a hero like Guiliano, a legend? And dead? I love him as the son of my dear friends, but I do not envy him his fame. You are alive and he is dead. Always remember that and live your life not to be a hero but to remain alive. With time, heroes seem a little foolish.
Michael sighed. "Guiliano had no choice," he said.
"We are more fortunate," the Don said.
It was the first lesson Michael received from his father and the one he learned best. It was to color his future life, persuade him to make terrible decisions he could never have dreamed of making before. It changed his perception of honor and his awe of heroism. It helped him to survive, but it made him unhappy. For despite the fact that his father did not envy Guiliano, Michael did.
♥ In Sicily, if you have any money at all, you do not put your loved ones into the ground. That is too final a defeat, and the earth of Sicily has already been responsible for too many indignities.
♥ And Aspanu Pisciotta with his subtle mind, who was to say he had not listened when Hector Adonis had recited the legends of Charlemagne and Roland and Oliver and so decided to go another way? By remaining faithful, Pisciotta would have been forgotten, Guiliano would fill the legend alone. But by committing his great crime, he would stand alongside his beloved Turi forever.