Lampedusa by Steven Price
The Leopard, written by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and published in 1958, a year after the author’s death, is considered a masterpiece of modern literature.
Steven Price has written his own novel, Lampedusa, about the man himself and his late in life desire to write a novel. And, it is a fascinating life – and a fascinating novel.
It mattered not to my enjoyment, that I have not yet read The Leopard. I have a copy of The Leopard that has spent many years on the bookshelf at our cottage – perhaps it came with the place when we bought it almost 30 years ago. Now, after reading the novel Lampedusa I would now like to read this novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and learn more about the author. Price’s book is a novel after all – historical fiction – so I am uncertain how much is fact, and how much is fiction.
Giuseppe, the last prince of Lampedusa, was a man who had travelled widely in Europe, loved London and Paris. Well educated and genteel, he is one of the last of a long line of aristocratic royalty. He has no children of his own but there are many cousins who hold various titles.
The wealth and holdings of the Lampedusa family are greatly reduced after the Second World War, many palazzos simply ruins. The family home in Palermo bombed by the Americans. Giuseppe married Alessandra Wolff, already married when he first meets her, a Latvian who understood that she could not take him away from Sicily, and his home where they eventually live together.
They live in comfort in Palermo where Alessandra practices as a psychoanalyst and Giuseppe, in the last years of his life, decides he should write a novel. That his brother was a poet, published and lauded, gives him some encouragement - and a desire to best him.
When Giuseppe is diagnosed with lung disease he knows he will die first – the last of the line – no children – wealth gone – estate eroded – the “great palaces sold or reduced to rubble”.
Stendhal, who Giuseppe “admired above all others. He had written that a person, no matter how insignificant, ought to leave behind some chronicle of their time on this earth, some accretion of their collected memory and experience. That was the only eternity”. Realizing that all his own memories would vanish with him, that In fact, the world he had inherited and had grown up knowing, will vanish, Giuseppe begins to write.
The novel moves seamlessly between the past and the present as Giuseppe thinks of the past and writes in the present. He writes about meeting his wife, in London in 1925. His own grand tour, the rise of Mussolini, and Europe between the world wars. He remembers the beloved palazzo on Via di Lampedusa, now only “crumbling plaster and stone” where his mother spent her final days in the winter of 1946.
Lampedusa is altogether an exceptional novel, sensitive to it’s subject, a man we come to care for as we follow his history from a childhood of luxury and love, to his old age and the knowledge that death will come soon.