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Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel, and La Cosa Nostra    by Peter Robb order for
Midnight in Sicily
by Peter Robb
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2007 (1998)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Economist calls Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily 'quite simply, the best book in English about Italy.' Kirkus Reviews says: 'Midnight in Sicily is another work from another age and era. This narrative is itself an eclectic and sumptuous meal that through no fault of the author's leaves the diner with a bitter taste in the mouth.'

Robb presents a brief history of Sicily and then brings it up to almost present day. He is chiefly interested in the aftermath of World War II up to 1996 when this book was written. His insider's take on the political situations is engrossing. The beauty of the island of Sicily is soured by a struggle for power that produces a 'network of violence and corruption that reaches into every corner of Sicilian life: Cosa Nostra, the Mafia.' The disregard for human life that permeates Robb's depiction of that struggle is unbelievable.

The occasional intervention of the Catholic Church is an eye-opener. Out and out warfare became common, wherein the tightest of security could not protect those who felt they needed that protection. They were proved right. Many died of shotgun blasts and a coup de grace bullet to the head. Smuggling hit a peak as did kidnapping and extortion. Families of those on a hit list were not exempt.

Robb's sojourn in Naples found pretty much the same thing. A restaurant where heads of mafia families would meet with their American counterparts was revered for those visits. How someone could survive psychologically in those turbulent times is a mystery to me. Happily, Robb also describes some of the foods he relished. The history of the introduction of coffee into Naples proves very interesting as does the arrival of sugar and its various uses. The pastry shops are still a big part of a meal. Of course, seafood is king in a country surrounded by the sea. Art also takes its place on these pages.

Midnight in Sicily is a book that is well worth the read to give an understanding of the turmoil that has plagued Sicily and Naples for so many years. And whether the reader has been to the locations described in this work or not, they come alive through Robb's right-on-the-mark descriptive talents.

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