Rebels and Mafiosi: Death in a Sicilian Landscape

James Fentress, Author
James Fentress, Author Cornell University Press $41.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8014-3539-3
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Thorough if somewhat dry, this scholarly history traces the rise of the Mafia in its ancestral homeland. Freelance writer Fentress locates the roots of the Mafia in the 19th-century rebellions that occurred when the Sicily attempted to break free from Naples's control. He shows that the local officials relied on ""an extensive network of spies and informers"" to exert control over an unruly population. Nor did this situation change after Italy unified in the 1860s. With the help of police archives, trial records and contemporary accounts, the pace picks up in the book's livelier second half. Fentress describes how these spies and informers, along with some of the revolutionaries who fought Italy's national liberation movement, later became the soldiers of the Mafia. ""Revolution creates its own rules,"" the author writes, and in the 19th century, a no-man's land developed in Sicily, full of relations that were ""somewhere between the illegal and the illicit."" In a poor society with a tradition for violence, the Mafia was able to prosper despite sporadic attempts to eradicate it. Indeed, the government's crackdowns only reinforced the already popular notion that the Mafia is all-powerful. After refuting the idea that the Mafia has always been intertwined with the ""Sicilian soul,"" Fentress persuasively argues that without effective governance and improved economic conditions, the island is unlikely to rid itself of what he calls the ""soldiers of the permanent revolution."" B&w photos. (Apr.)
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