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Description - Sicilian Odyssey by Francine Prose

"The whole history of Italy - and of much of Europe - seems to have been distilled, concentrated, and acted out on this singular island," writes Francine Prose of Sicily, a place conquered in succession by the Greeks and Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, and Vandals, Byzantines, and Saracens, Normans, Swabians, the Spanish and French. In her travels through the island, she examines the seamlessness and grace with which the present layers itself over this colorful and brutal history, as well as the amazingly intact and magnificent icons of bygone splendor: the Greek amphitheater at Siracusa, once among the most influential city-states in the world; the winding alleyways and Baroque palazzos on the island of Ortygia; the melange of Norman, Byzantine, and Arab in the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu; the Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina; the majestic and mysterious Greek temple at Segesta. Prose writes of the intensity of Sicily, the "commitment to the extreme," where the history is more colorful, the sun hotter, the cooking earthier, the violence more horrific, the carnival more raucous, the politics more Byzantine than other places on earth and how much the island can teach us about the triumph of beauty over violence and life over death.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780792265351
ISBN-10: 0792265351
Format: Hardback
(143mm x 210mm x 21mm)
Pages: 192
Imprint: National Geographic Books
Publisher: National Geographic Books
Publish Date: 28-Nov-2003
Country of Publication: United States

Book Reviews - Sicilian Odyssey by Francine Prose

US Kirkus Review » If the gods couldn't get enough of Sicily, figures novelist Prose (Blue Angel, 2000, etc.), the island must have plenty going for it-and she's right. This latest in National Geographic's sophisticated, fleet, intelligent series of travel writing finds Prose seeking "that Sicilian gift for extracting beauty from the harshest and most painful truths, for compelling death to admit its debt and allegiance to life, for creating an enduring-a vital and living-masterpiece." She does a good job of it all. She writes with a cautious lyricism about a land where natural and manmade splendors coexist with sustained and terrible bloodshed (also caused both by nature and by man), calling up a colorful, brutal history seen in a remarkably preserved Greek Temple or Roman mosaic; a giddily baroque Palermo and the stinking, fuming Gela; the sweep of ocean and hills below Erice, that severe, frosty town that suggests how "it must feel to be inside a diamond; its perfection is almost physically painful." Prose has the descriptive touch, whether summoning a ghostly Phoenician outpost, the pink and ochre palaces of Ortygia, or a raw and primal fish market. She makes vivid the distinctiveness of the island's cooking despite its use of only a few, common ingredients, and doesn't avoid the disorientation that comes when organized crime becomes the law. She is very good with history, and Sicily has a furious one, which Prose treats with a light hand for all its action and misery, with Romans being chased out by Vandals, those in turn conquered by Ostrogoths before the island was annexed by Byzantium, only to fall to the Saracens, who built Palermo's 300 mosques and turned it into the capital of Islamic civilization, which would soon be overwhelmed by Normans, "the Hell's Angels of the medieval world." The author's Sicilian Odyssey was brief but intense, spent peering indefatigably behind or underneath the deceptively obvious. (Photographs) (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Francine Prose

Francine Prose is the author of ten novels, including Bigfoot Dreams, Primitive People, and Blue Angels, and two collections of her short fiction. Prose's essays have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, Elle, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, and a PEN translation prize. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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