Reviewed in the United States on September 19, 2022
“A Hidden Sicilian History” by Ettore Grillo is a well-written novel that flows naturally from the Sicily of the past into the present. I especially enjoyed reading the Preface, called “The Find,” which sets up the premise of the book — that a manuscript has been found in the library of Enna (a small town in central Sicily) that contains the autobiography of a young man, Vicenzino, and includes his search to understand the lives deaths of those around him, as well as his journeys to India made to understand the meaning of faith. This was so well written that I was fooled at first, and actually believed that this story was a translation of a manuscript!
Grillo’s premise serves as a spring board that allows the reader a glimpse into a way of living in a Sicily of the past, with details that could only be known by a native. The accounts in the young boy’s life are told from the vantage point of the author as an adult, of course, ostensibly during a theatrical event. I truly enjoyed reading the descriptions of life in a small town in Sicily, which really came alive through the characters and everyday events. For instance, I learned details of country life when a young Vicenzino was sent to live in the country with his adult cousin who ran a farm. This was a simple life without electricity or air conditioning but rich in its connection to the land and philosophy, with no other diversions at night than stories told under the stars. I was amazed to find that Vicenzino became healthy through early morning exercise during walks while hunting with his cousin and on a simple diet of pasta and cabbage and potatoes for lunch and eggs for dinner — with the addition of an occasional rabbit they caught.
The reader then learns about what it is like to grow up in a Sicily of the past through glimpses into the activities of Vicenzino’s relatively well-off family, and even take a journey into a sulfur mine run largely by child labor that provided the family income.
Amid these details, the driving force of the first half of the novel is Vicenzino’s desire to learn about his name sake, his cousin Vicenzo, who was deeply mourned by his mother and whose death was shrouded in secrecy. Vicenzino does eventually learn all he wants about his uncle’s life, which takes us even further back into an historical Sicily.
The mores of the times feature prominently in the life of Vicenzo as well as Vicenzino and lead us into the second half of the novel, which is a travelogue of Vicenzino’s search in India for the meaning of faith. There are few details about India, but many about those individuals of great faith that Vicenzino and his wife seek out and visit. In the midst of this, we learn of a tragic event that occurred during the course of Vicenzino’s life that. along with the deaths he experienced as a child, helped drive his many visits to Italy as an adult and further his need to understand if there is an afterlife.
It is true that the theme of faith and the search for the afterlife was introduced in the preface, and descriptions of the Catholic faith permeate the life of Vicenzino and Vicenzo; therefore, I should not have been surprised that much of the second part of the book included Vicenzino’s search for a solution to his life questions through faith. But I did not enjoy the second part of the book that was set largely in India as much as the first half set in Sicily, since my interests do not extend to India and the different practices of faith in India. However, I would recommend this section for those who are interested in a discussion of how different peoples view faith and search for meaning in life.
Over all, I found this book an interesting and worthwhile read and would recommend it to those interested in a vivid account of a Sicily of the past.
I was given this book by the author for an honest review