Mafia Vendetta. Leonardo Sciascia. Jonathan Cape, 15s.
This novel, short, soberly written, and yet explosively effective can perhaps be usefully compared to Rosi’s film Hands over the city. Sciascia tells the story of an intelligent, honest North Italian police captain, with a resistance past, posted to a Sicilian town where his investigation of two killings leads him to the Mafia boss, Don Mariano. From his arrival the captain is classed as a ‘Communist’ and a ‘subversive’ on account of his conscientious approach to his duties. Now he has caused real trouble, and a whole network of protectors from lawyers and a deputy to the Rome parliament to a minister and a high dignitary of the Church has to be tapped before the case which he has built up can be destroyed.
The plot may sound not unusual, but the qualities which make this book are not those of plot. Nothing is done to present the incidents recounted as unusual. It is precisely this which makes the book explosive. The story is told as a perfectly normal account of Sicilian society today, dominated by an alliance of the Mafia, the Church, and the parties identified with the existing order—most importantly the Christian Democrat party. No effort is made to give particular colour to the characters of the story as individuals—they are presented as individuals, not as types, but described only to the extent that is necessary for the clearly documentary purpose of the novel, with a minimum of detail. And as with Rosi’s Hands over the city or his Salvatore Giuliano the actual story told both exists and is effective autonomously, but also succeeds in providing a microcosmic effect, requiring a totalization (automatically and unconsciously made at least by every Italian reader or viewer) which embraces the whole political reality of Italy today, where an inter-classist Christian Democrat party, containing the potentially contradictory forces, holds power only by its alliance in Southern Italy with the most retrogressive and brutal social forces, and where the logic of this power situation activates a permanent liquidation of internal contradictions in favour of the reactionary wing of the party. Both Sciascia’s novel and Rosi’s films are direct political statements, and have been taken as such by the elements of the Italian social order which they directly expose and indirectly implicate. As Rosi states in the postscript to Hands over the city—the characters are fictional, the social and political reality depicted exists. q.h.