cover image The Invention of Sicily: A Mediterranean History

The Invention of Sicily: A Mediterranean History

Jamie Mackay. Verso, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-78663-773-4

Journalist Mackay debuts with an astute and revealing portrait of Sicily as a vibrant, historically “autonomous” island with a singular culture fashioned by its proximity to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He delves into the establishment of the first Greek settlements around 750 BCE; the golden age of the Greek city-state of Syracuse in the third century BCE, while the rest of the island was engulfed in the First Punic War with Rome; and the ninth-century Islamic conquest that gave rise to Sicily’s UNESCO-recognized Arab-Norman architecture. Skillfully segueing from one period to the next, Mackay packs the narrative with insights into how historical events impacted Sicilian culture. At the height of the Black Plague in the 14th century, for instance, “the bright gold Byzantine mosaics of Sicily’s churches and chapels began to be replaced by darker, stranger pieces” that featured “dog people, humans with multiple heads, unicorns and other more ambiguous monsters.” Mackay also chronicles the history of the Sicilian Mafia, documenting its 19th-century origins, suppression by Mussolini in the 1920s, and post-WWII resurgence, though he stresses the short history of Cosa Nostra on an island where Cicero walked. The author’s keen eye for telling details and lucid prose make this an accessible introduction to a complex and fascinating culture. (July)