THAT SUMMER IN SICILY by Marlena de Blasi

When Marlena de Blasi was given the assignment of writing about the interior regions of Sicily, she suspected that she got the job because others had turned it down. For “the center of the island is an aloof and pathless place, and the colossal silence of it all is reflected in its people,” a friend warned. But de Blasi was intrigued. She made plans. She traveled to Sicily. She made phone calls. Her phone calls were not answered. Her meetings didn’t happen. And when she tried to befriend people in the tourist industry, her elegant business cards elicited nothing more than grunts.

De Blasi calls her editor to tell him this, and then turns to her husband to ask him what he’d like to do with the unexpected free time.

They go to a bar, and see some policeman who frequent the place. Di Blasi approaches them. Could they tell her of some place to stay in the countryside, perhaps a small hotel or pensione? Unexpectedly, they tell her. The woman’s name is Tosca. The place is Villa Donnafugata.

De Blasi and her husband thank them, and leave.

What happens next is…so Sicilian.

How would you feel if you think you’re going to a hotel, only to arrive somewhere that could better be described as a nunnery? There are bells. There is a community of women, cooking, sewing, and digging. There is bustle and laughter. There is tragedy and death. Marlena de Blasi can only gape.

But the biggest surprise comes from Tosca herself, who talks. And she is not talking about the weather, but spilling a tale of love, rivalry, jealousy and the mafia.

All those things it is better to be silent about.

Hence THAT SUMMER IN SICILY. Five stars.