Steven Price is an award-winning novelist and poet with a talent for shading in the past. Lampedusa opens in 1955, when the real-life Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who has just been diagnosed with advanced emphysema, begins to write a novel.
Tomasi was the last prince of Lampedusa, a realm that had been in decline for seven hundred years, though he never visited the island. Born in Palermo in 1896, he watched as his world crumbled into dust, either through aerial bombardment or decay and impoverishment. Tomasi’s own novel, The Leopard, was written at a time when Italy’s leading lights were largely galvanised by neorealism and experimentalism. Tomasi’s defence of the old virtues and graces fell on deaf ears. The publisher at Mondadori turned The Leopard down and the novel was not published in his lifetime. This is the story Price gives us.
It is easy to see why Tomasi’s contemporaries failed him: his was a pessimistic, fatalist vision that did not chime with the postwar boom in industry and cinema and the excitement of Hollywood sul Tevere. His vision was born of a deep and passionate love and understanding of Sicily’s history.