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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

To Each His Own
(A Man's Blessing)

by
Leonardo Sciascia


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase To Each His Own



Title: To Each His Own
Author: Leonardo Sciascia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1968)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: To Each His Own - US
To Each His Own - UK
To Each His Own - Canada
To Each His Own - India
À chacun son dû - France
Jedem das Seine - Deutschland
A ciascuno il suo - Italia
A cada cual, lo suyo - España
  • Italian title: A ciascuno il suo
  • Translated by Adrienne Foulke
  • The 2000 NYRB Classics edition comes with an Introduction by W.S. Di Piero
  • Originally published in English in 1968 as A Man's Blessing
  • A ciascuno il suo was made into a film in 1967, We Still Kill the Old Way, directed by Elio Petri and starring Irene Papas

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Our Assessment:

A- : sharp, dark story of a corrupt society

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 15/8/2009 Franz Haas
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/5/1968 Herbert Mitgang
The Spectator . 17/4/1969 Henry Tune
TLS . 1/5/1969 Isabel Quigly


  From the Reviews:
  • "Leonardo Sciascia hat hier vielmehr ein sizilianisches Sittenbild seiner Zeit entworfen, mit der ironischen Grazie seines Lehrers Vitaliano Brancati und mit dem psychologischen Scharfblick seines Landsmanns Pirandello. Es ist das Bild eines abgründigen und trotz aller Sonne dunklen Sizilien, eine bis heute aktuelle Skizze dieser verunglückten Region." - Franz Haas, Neue Z¨rcher Zeitung

  • "It is a gemlike example of the difference between a mystery and a realized work of fiction that does not depend upon a tidy solution for its novelistic life." - Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times Book Review

  • "A Man's Blessing, by Leonardo Sciascia, a slim novel about corruption and murder in Sicily, is oddly disappointing. The characters seem to be stereotypes, the language trite, the outcome predictable. All the same, one senses the remnants of some special flavour which was perhaps lost in translation. The publishers, in their dust-jacket blurb, talk of `fierce irony.' Alas, if it was there, it has not travelled." - Henry Tune, The Spectator

  • "Leonardo Sciascia writes of a society so fictional-sounding that when it is used in fiction understatement is needed, if drama is not to slide into melodrama. (...) The American translation reads fluently and well, Sciascia's difficult, dense, and complex prose being put into dense and complex but not difficult-sounding English" - Isabel Quigly, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       To Each His Own is a mystery, of sorts. Two men are murdered while out hunting, and the bulk of the novel follows local teacher Professor Paolo Laurana over the following months as he sniffs around, investigating whodunnit. But even as it seems to follow the usual mystery-novel-steps, To Each His Own is a very different sort of novel -- as ultimately becomes devastatingly clear in its resolution, as the usual story-arc for this kind of novel -- of investigator emerging triumphant as he nails the culprit, and the murderer identified and/or brought to justice -- is entirely upended. What Sciascia sketches here so successfully is a society that is so thoroughly corrupt that justice -- and those who try to find it -- stand little or no chance.
       The novel begins with local pharmacist Dr.Manno receiving an anonymous letter, a death threat pieced together out of newsprint. He can't imagine why anyone would be out to get him -- and it doesn't stop him from going hunting with Dr.Roscio a few days later, as the hunting season opens. From the haul that is found with them, they had a good day shooting --- until they were the prey, gunned down thirty feet apart.
       Naturally, it is assumed that the pharmacist was the target and Dr.Roscio an unfortunate victim who had to be eliminated along with the pharmacist. It is also assumed whoever wrote the death threat was responsible -- and the first thought is, of course, that it was some jealous husband. However, the pharmacist seems not to have strayed, and that idea doesn't lead anywhere. (It is enough, however, to tar the reputation of the one girl who visited the pharmacy suspiciously frequently (never mind that her brother had meningitis at the time); just the hint of the possibility of her involvement is enough for her fiancé's family to break off the engagement and even for her own family to turn on her and, even after everything has been cleared up to the police's satisfaction: "silently, steadily, diligently beat her" -- not for any actual transgression, but merely for having raised the suspicion ... that's the way it works in this provincial town.)
       Laurana is: "An honest, meticulous, melancholy man; not very intelligent, and indeed at times positively obtuse". He's almost forty and still lives with mom, with many acquaintances but no real friends. He enjoys his academic work, and writes articles for obscure journals -- but the puzzle of the murders is also something he can't let go. And he can't help but dig around.
       The possibility that it was Dr.Roscio that was the intended victim, and the pharmacist the unfortunate bystander who also had to be eliminated, eventually emerges. It is Dr.Roscio that has the very beautiful widow (while the pharmacist's is nothing to behold), and then there's the fact that just shortly before his death Dr.Roscio had approached a national deputy (and former schoolmate of Laurana's) hoping to expose a man: "who held the whole province in the palm of his hand, who made men and unmade them, stole, bribed, swindled ...". Laurana follows this trail, finding the candidates are, depending on how widely one casts the net, potentially numerous; as someone observes:

Because if we confine ourselves to town, any newborn infant knows the answer. But if we branch out into the immediate vicinity, much less the province, the prospect is one to make the head spin. Chaos.
       Laurana is, indeed, unfortunately somewhat obtuse, not realizing what he's getting himself into or who he is taking on (while any 'newborn infant' might ....). Repeatedly essentially hit over the head with the information, he doesn't make the connection that everyone else implicitly understands (of how this corrupt world works, for one); indeed, ultimately someone actually has to spell it right out for him ("No, he didn't name the person, but it's clear who it is", he's told, but still needs the big reveal; "Clear. No possible doubt", he's told, but he's the last one to see it).
       Laurana isn't entirely naïve; he notes early on that he shouldn't necessarily be taken in by the fact that he enjoys someone's company, as, after all: "Sicily and maybe all of Italy is full of likable people who should have their heads chopped off." But his blinders do limit his range of understanding, and that proves to be his undoing.
       The neat resolution is perfectly pulled off by Sciascia, with a cruel casualness suggesting a society so thoroughly corrupt that that has become the natural order; there's a stunning turn or two here (that everyone except Laurana would have seen coming a mile away), presented in a beautiful blow of a paragraph that any thriller-writer would envy.
       There's a deceptive ease to the writing in To Each His Own; it flows ever so easily along, as indeed the entire novel has a casual feel to it that beautifully covers up the dark underbelly of this town and society and makes Sciascia's revelations all the more effective. Very nicely turned, indeed.

       Note: W.S. Di Piero's Introduction to the NYRB Classics edition ties up all the loose ends and reveals exactly what happened. The novel is strong enough that it can withstand that, but, man, that was one terrible editorial decision. You can do this in an Afterword, but in an Introduction ... unacceptable. (So, yes, readers are strongly advised to skip the 'Introduction' until they've finished the book (but it is worth reading, so do go back to it).)

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 August 2013

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Links:

To Each His Own: Reviews: We Still Kill the Old Way - the film: Other books by Leonardo Sciascia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Leonardo Sciascia lived 1921 to 1989.

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© 2013 the complete review

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