I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Don Fabrizio of the house of Salina has the misfortune to be a Prince of Sicily during the chaotic time of the 19th-century Risorgimento. Rebel fires burn in the hills, foreign warships lurk in the harbour, and Garibaldi is leading the army of King Victor Emmanuel to forcibly unify Italy, including Bourbon Sicily. Although the Prince is a huge, powerful “leonine” man capable of bending coins and silverware in his controlled rages, he feels impotent to stop the forces of change consuming his country and class, by which men of business (hyenas and jackals) lacking manners and morals are buying up the lands and power of the declining aristocratic families (lions and leopards). Because the Prince is a product of the “pride and intellectuality of his mother and the sensuality and irresponsibility of his father,” he feels alienated from his family and friends, who find him forbidding and eccentric. Three things give him consolation: his astronomical hobby (discovering planets, gaining the illusion that his calculations are controlling the movements of heavenly bodies, and cleansing himself in the constant purity of stars), his loyal Great Dane Bendico (relying on his phlegmatic presence and indulging his ravages of the garden), and his orphan nephew Tancredi (enjoying his handsome figure, ironic wit, and ambitious adaptability to the new era and loving him more than his own disappointing sons).
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was himself a descendent of a Prince who inspired his historical fiction about Don Fabrizio when he wrote The Leopard (1958). The novel depicts the decay and decline of the Sicilian (and Italian) aristocracy, as perceived by the Prince, an intelligent, cultured, and thoughtful man capable of empathy, self-awareness, and self-justification. Di Lampedusa tells his story in eight chapters, the first six of which occur between 1860 and 1862, the seventh in 1873, and the last in 1910. The story introduces Don Fabrizio, his family, his country, and their troubles, depicts the family’s summer visit to their estate in the countryside, where young people fall in love and Don Fabrizio must try to negotiate a humiliating but practical marriage, and concludes with yet another prestige-losing trial for the Salinas, a twentieth-century Papal examination of family religious "relics" that ends up settling the fate of the long-stuffed Bendico, the only true Salina relic.
The Leopard vividly depicts Sicilian character and culture (marked by 2500 years of being colonized by other civilizations and by six months each year of 100+ temperatures). And such is the quality of di Lampedusa’s insights into human nature that his novel transcends its time and place and reveals the universal human condition.
It's not an optimistic vision. The Prince says cynical things about love ("Flames for a year, ashes for thirty"), family ("every time one sees a relative, one finds a thorn"), leadership ("the faculty of self-deception [is the] essential requisite for wanting to guide others"), and mortality ("We all die with a mask on our features)." And yet the very honesty, the deep empathy with various people--male, female, old, young, aristocrat, peasant, etc.--and even dogs and gods, and the humor, all make reading the novel a poignant pleasure.
In its translation from the Italian original into English by (I think) Archibald Colquhoun, the novel is richly written, di Lampedusa’s prose being full of beauty, irony, and rich, witty, sensual descriptions worthy of savoring, like this one:
"It was a garden for the blind, a constant offense to the eyes, a pleasure strong, if somewhat crude, to the nose. The Paul Neyron roses, whose cuttings he had himself bought in Paris had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julys, they had changed into things like flesh-colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense, almost indecent, scent which no French horticulturalist would have dared hope for. The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera. Bendico, to whom it was also proffered, drew back in disgust and hurried off in search of healthier sensations amid dead lizards and manure."
The depiction of young lovers exploring forgotten rooms in a labyrinthine palace is intoxicating.
And di Lampedusa enjoys the occasional provocative foreshadowing, e.g., "Such youthful simplicities she was to discard completely when, years later, she became one of the most venomous string pullers for Parliament and Senate."
The reader, David Horovitch, is excellent, his voice and manner perfectly suited to reading an ironic, tragic, funny, and sad novel from the point of view of a proud and philosophical man helplessly presiding over the decline of his class and family. Because I had just finished listening to Horovitch read Ovid's Metamorphoses before listening to him read The Leopard, I often had the illusion that di Lampedusa was continuing Ovid's work, partly due to the many references to gods and goddesses of antiquity and partly due to the theme of inevitable change that may be a blessing or a curse.
Anyone interested in Sicily or rich, concise, and psychologically accurate novels about past times that speak to our times would probably like The Leopard.
Like the best historic novels (
If you have read the book or have seen the classic film adaptation, this is an excellent evocation of the material. If you are not familiar with it, however, I am not sure this is the best place to begin.
This is a deep book on many levels. Although translated from Italian, the story is easy to follow.
I bought this book because I have been to Italy and it is the anniversary of Italian Unification. It was a rich, deep study of one man's character - the leopard of the title - an Italian nobleman at the time of unification. The story was good, the reader was excellent. I am just not sure I would recommend this to too many people. I think you have a to have a special interest in Italy, Italian culture or Sicily to get the most out of this. A nice read, a nice listen. Just not the most memorable.
This reading puts the movie in the shade. The novel is extraordinary and far more extensive and far deeper than the film. Horovich is one of the best readers I've heard. Don't miss this extraordinary reading!
Horovitch's reading makes this story, written in difficult Italian prose, even more delightful. Set in turbulent Sicily of the 1860's, The Leopard tells of a profoundly troubled man whose aristocratic way of life is passing away before his eyes...much like everything else in his life and memory.
Lots of flowery language but a story of only limited value or entertainment. The description of death was quite engaging while depiction of change was not as well done. But, the narration was superb!
Dr. Marlena Corcoran
Symbolic without being overwrought. Splendid characters, down to the prince's dog, who is resurrected at the very end as the symbol of the demise of the noble family. The down side of the unification of Italy, and the glory and despair of Sicily. A magnificent author, beautifully anchored by the sober voice of the narrator.
Avid reader of history, biography, and true crime.
I can only endorse all the positive reviews from other readers. This book is a masterpiece, and David Horovitch's reading is superb. I will be re-reading this book many times for the pleasure it provides on so many levels.