Leonardo Sciascia (SHAH-shah) was born in Racalmuto, Sicily, on January 8, 1921. He lived much of his life in Sicily, where, before his success as a novelist and public figure in the 1960’s, he was a teacher. More than any other Italian author of the late twentieth century, Sciascia occupied himself with the problems of Sicilian society. His grim chronicles of the Mafia’s infestation of Sicily, including the political corruption of Sicilian government, present a grimly realistic picture of life on the island.
Sciascia was educated in the Istituto Magistrale in Caltanissetta, where he received his teacher’s diploma. From 1949 to 1957, he taught at an elementary school in the same city. In 1957, he moved to Palermo, where he taught until his writing enabled him to live on his literary earnings. He began writing in the neorealist style, chronicling the misery and poverty of the average Italian in the postwar era. His first success, Salt in the Wound, reflects his experiences as a schoolteacher, describing the depressing task of trying to teach tough, unruly twelve-year-old children. It goes on to portray life in the mythical town of Regalpetra. This book foreshadows Sciascia’s later efforts to show that the corruption of society (especially in Sicily) sometimes overwhelms all attempts to reform it. Sciascia’s pessimism, one of his hallmarks, is everywhere present in this early work.
In Mafia Vendetta, Sciascia brings into focus one of Sicily’s major problems: organized crime at a level that pervades all strata of society. By the time this novel appeared, Sciascia was already recognized as one of Italy’s most courageous writers. He had received the Premio Libera Stampa Lugano, the Premio Prato, and the Premio Crotone. Novels such as A Man’s Blessing further developed Sciascia’s societal views, portraying characters who are all, more or less, in bondage to political and criminal corruption. Sciascia condemned the corruption of Sicilian society not only through his writings but also through his political activities as a deputy of the Radical Party at the European Parliament, beginning in 1979. He also wrote books denouncing conditions in Italy, such as The Moro Affair, about the murder of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. Sciascia’s style is relatively simple, and his novels are brief—seldom more than 150 pages. Rather than outrage, he voiced bitter irony at the apparently hopeless morass of Sicilian society.