To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A faint shadow of suspicion is cast upon a young woman's honor; maybe, just maybe, she talked to a married man too many times. Eventually, the suspicion proves to be unfounded and the woman is clearly not guilty of anything. Yet the family name was - however fleetingly and mistakenly - connected to possible wrongdoing, so the family has no other choice but to punish the woman, and she is "silently, steadily, diligently" beaten by her relatives. This is the world of Leonardo Sciascia's "To Each His Own" (1966), a painfully brutal short novel about the tribal relationships and rituals in a small Italian town. The action takes place in rural Sicily in the second half of the 20th century, but the mechanisms shown by Mr. Sciascia have not changed much for thousands of years in any place where people yearn for money, power, and sex.
The author has disguised this parable of greed and lust as a mystery. Dr. Manno, the town pharmacist, receives an anonymous letter that contains a death threat: "To avenge what you have done, you will die." The doctor treats it as a joke, as do his friends whom he consults about the threat. Yet the next day, during the opening of the hunting season, he is killed along with his partner. The police inquiry does not seem to go anywhere, and professor Laurano, a local literature teacher, begins his own investigation. In the end, professor Laurano's efforts are successful - in certain sense - and we learn why Dr. Manno and his hunting partner had to die. Yet the truth cannot be disclosed and will never become officially known because the fundamental mechanisms that control functioning of the town are based on deep, pervasive corruption of the entire town's elite. And yes, there is mafia, though no one ever mentions it - there is no need to; it is as natural as air or water.
The author offers a fascinating look into small-town Italian politics, where the party allegiances - Fascist, Christian Democratic, Communist, whatever - do not mean a thing, the Left and Right are hollow terms, and the only thing that counts is the system and its Holy Trinity of money, power, and sex. While I mention these three words twice in this review, they are not mentioned at all by any of the characters in the novel. They instead speak of love, honor, hard work, and sacrifice, knowing these are just empty words; everybody knows this, save for poor professor Laurano. Naive simpletons are tolerated in the society as long as they do not make waves.
Many readers will find this short novel depressing, well ... many people are deluded about human nature. But Mr. Sciascia's novel has some lighter passages as well, some of them somewhat erotic in nature yet sparkling with sharpness of observation: "Any and every place in the world where the hem of a skirt was rising a fraction of an inch above the knee, there, within a range of thirty yards, was bound to be a Sicilian, one at least, to spy on the phenomenon. Laurana did not stop to think that he, too, had voraciously caught the white gleam of flesh between black and black, and that he had noticed the group of young hoodlums for the simple reason that he was of the same breed." I hope this passage also shows that the English translation reads well.
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