4 out of 5 stars

Sicily is the very essence of Italy distilled down to an espresso sized shot. The food is strongly flavoured, the sun bakes the landscape over the long summer and the intense rush that assault all of your senses. Its position in the centre of the Mediterranean meant that it had suffered invasions all the way through its long history too, Phoenicians, Athenians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Habsburgs, Bourbons and Byzantines are just some of the cultures that have come and gone, leaving traces on the landscape, culture and people.

Travel writer Horatio Clare is one of a long list of writers who have been inspired to write about their adventure and experiences of the island. In this book, he has sifted through some of the vast quantity of writings and annotated them with his own personal stories. Some of the stories told reach as far back as the Greek classics, and in Arrivals, he begins with Homer from the Odyssey where the first mention of the island appears in literature.

The next section is called Miracles, and in this Clare has selected stories and tales from the diverse religions and peoples that have occupied the island in times past from writers and poets such as Vincent Cronin, Ibn Jubayr and Johann Wolfgang von Gothe. People of the Earth is concerned with those that have scratched a living from the scorched earth and have been the victims of a millennia-old feudal system that the island still has echoes of if you know where to look. This neatly leads on to the next section, The Curse is about the horrors that the Mafia have inflicted on the population of the island. In her are passages from the great, Norman Lewis, Leonardo Sciascia and Peter Robb. The final section brings us to the modern-day where there are passages from Mary Taylor Simeti and Theresa Maggio of life on the island.

Clare has curated a great and varied collection of prose about this small but significant island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Each passage gives a strongly flavoured taste of what it is like there. I really liked most of the chosen passages, but most fascinating was the part by Charlotte Gower Chapman called Milocca: A Sicilian Village where she reveals so much detail about life there in the late 1920s. The manuscript was lost and reappeared in 1978 and was thankfully published. I read this whilst on holiday in the island and even travelled to one or two of the places that are mentioned, and it is a great way to discover a lot of different things about Sicily.

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