Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Sicilian Tales Brings Bilingual Fairy Tales to America!

Sicilian Tales
By Luigi Capuana
Dante University Press.
ISBN: 9780937832516
382 Pages

One might say that Sicilian Tales by Luigi Capuana is really three books in one! First it presents an extensive survey of Sicilian literature and its writers, an overview of its history and even a few wonderfully illustrative pictures of the architecture there by Santi V. Buscemi. Second is Buscemi’s translation, in a bilingual edition, of short stories, providing on one page the original Sicilian and on the other an English translation. It certainly provides all interested families an opportunity to share Sicilian and Italian heritage in a significant way!

For some reason, I chose to start reading the stories first. Reading 20 fairie tales one right after the other, rather than the norm where one story at a time is shared, allowed me to evaluate the overall tone of the stories. I was not surprised, but still gratified, that my opinion followed that of the analysis by Buscemi. Indeed, in nearly all of Capuana’s tales, he portrays royalty in a less than kind manner. Not surprising, then, it is the magical creatures, a fairy or a good witch that is the one to make good things happen. Still, Capuana’s preface reveals that it was the children in his community, that daily came to pester him for a story that brought about his movement into writing these stories. As we think back to our own stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, magic has always been exciting for us when we were young. Shall I tell you of my favorites?

Serpentina tells the story about the Queen whose baby was a serpent!

The Penny with a Hole in It is about a poor widow, who always told her sickly infant that he was going to become a king.

The Teller of Tales is about a storyteller who has no new tales to tell the children!

The Princess tells the tale about her mother raising a louse...that winds up being involved in finding the future husband for the Princess!

Luigi Capuana was called the Father of Verismo, “the most important literary movement in nineteenth-century Italy...Capuana created a narrative technique that viewed the human personality with detachment, allowing for no sentimentality or moral posturing.”(p. 41) Additional highlights regarding Sicilian literature include:

Very little of Sicilian literary heritage is known in this country.

One of the most important writers of ancient Sicily is Diodorus Siculus, the historian who wrote a forty-volume Library of World History. Sadly only 25 of the 40 volumes of this work survive.

Sicilian poets made a number of important breakthroughs in the history of literature, including the invention of the sonnet!

Sicilians invented a new literary language, the first in an Italianate tongue.

The Sicilians wrote poetry to be read, while their predecessors had written it for performance.

Sicilians first introduced materials—images, information and language—from a variety of disciplines, studies and occupations, to write poetry of love!

Some believe that Sicilian’s poets were the first to write parodies, a completely new form.

Students of literary history will find this a mandatory addition to their reference library. For adults and children alike, the short stories by Luigi Capuana will provide a new set of tales that may not have been read since the late 1800’s! What better way to introduce a wonderful heritage than by having the original language, as well as the translation to use and enjoy at the same time. An Excellent addition for our Italian-American libraries!

G. A. Bixler

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