A good book, like a good wine must offer some degree of complexity. A Hidden Sicilian History by Ettore Grillo does just that. It is not at all what I expected. It is certainly not a history of the island.
We begin with the story of an old scroll found nestled in a volume of the Inquisition in a library in Enna, Sicily. The finder expects, as I did, that this will be a history of the island, possibly during the time of the Inquisition. As he translates it he finds the scroll instead to be a single fictional memoir of loss, doubt, and longing for truth.
The scroll becomes the vehicle for philosophical pondering about the meaning of life and what may lie beyond. The author of the scroll is an actor, Vincenzo. Through his musings the daily life in the 1930’s and historical events of the town of Enna become alive for the reader. Even small details regarding cures, strict customs and, of course, religious activities are included. Vincenzo becomes quite obsessed with the story of his uncle, also named Vincenzo, and feels a special bond with him, his namesake. He is determined to find information about his uncle’s mysterious death, a death no living relative would discuss. The fact that Vincenzo is introduced as an actor in a church play perhaps has bearing on his insecure identity and his personal spiritual challenges. Additionally, the fact that the scroll was found embedded in pages referring to the Inquisition dramatizes the book’s theme involving the impact of religion in our lives and our attitudes about our after-lives.
As we travel with Vincenzo in his quest for information about the demise of his uncle, we enter many pages of rather graphic sexual situations. This did take me by surprise but is appropriate considering the ultimate revelation of the cause of death. In his quest for universal truth the author touches on several world religions other than Christianity. This combination of real-life grit and philosophical wanderings into faith results in an interesting and unique and multi-layered read. The author is clearly highly educated and has a way with words that is both succinct and descriptive.