The Sacco Gang by Andrea Camilleri translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Through a combination of skill, good luck, and hard graft, Luigi Sacco transforms himself from hungry day labourer to wealthy landowner and patriarch of a close-knit family. Never forgetting their roots, the Saccos are generous to their neighbours and determined to live moral lives.
But socialism doesn’t sit well with the Mafia and, when he receives a letter demanding protection money, Luigi goes to the police. Although sympathetic, the authorities are powerless: no-one has ever dared defy the Mafia before.
As a threat level increases, compounded by assassination attempts and false accusations, the family’s resolve hardens. But what chance have they when the Mafia’s influence extends to the highest level while ordinary folk are terrified of incurring the terrorists’ wrath?
Based on a true story, the author of The Revolution of the Moon demonstrates the devastation wrought by corruption in a simple, straightforward style. Although I’d have preferred more character depth, I enjoyed learning more about Italy’s Wild West. Like his aforementioned previous novel, The Sacco Gang is translated by Stephen Sartarelli and published in the UK by Europa editions to whom thanks for my proof copy.
Milkman by Anna Burns
The eponymous milkman is not a real milkman, but a creepy stalker who knows more about the eighteen-year-old narrator than she would like. Superficially friendly, he warns her against running through the park or walking home from work with her nose in a book. The strict tribal and gender code of 1970s Belfast makes it impossible to object.
Meanwhile, the gossipmongers have been at work, transforming a non-relationship into a scandalous affair. Her mother lectures her against getting involved with a man twenty-three years her senior, although she’s nagged her to get married and start producing babies since she turned sixteen. The paramilitary groupies, women turned on by the power of violent men, surround her in the nightclub toilets, showering her with compliments as if she’s one of them.
Against the odds, the narrator wants an ordinary life, loyal to the us while keeping the grisly consequences at arm’s length. Besides, she doesn’t even like the milkman, and hasn’t encouraged him in any way. But when he threatens, albeit indirectly, to do away with her maybe-boyfriend – whom she does like, despite his hoarding of car parts, including a Bentley that, if complete, would bear the wrong flag – she’s sucked in.
A culture in which so much is unmentionable, or even unthought, might be what leads the narrator to describe and explain in sometimes excruciating detail without ever naming names. This makes for an unusual voice, but an extremely uneconomical one, which, not only because I was conscious of the other novels waiting on my TBR shelf, I found frustrating until about one fifth of the way through.
But it does evoke the all-pervading atmosphere of anxiety such that a closed mind is so much safer than an open one, so that even observing a sunset is subservient in its denial of the rule that the sky is blue. And it can be funny in its quirkiness, where the rules of allegiance are so potent, there’s even a right and wrong kind of butter. Indeed, the further I got into the novel, the more I appreciated the humour, alongside the poignancy, of the community’s resistance to what might be obvious elsewhere.
The oppression and mind control evokes Stalinism and North Korea and, perhaps to a lesser degree, my own Catholic childhood “over the water” at a similar time. There’s also hope, particularly in the characters on the edges and, in the end, I found it a joy.
Thanks to Faber and Faber for my review copy. For another novel on The Troubles, see my review of The Insect Rosary.