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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Day of the Owl
(Mafia Vendetta)

Leonardo Sciascia

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To purchase The Day of the Owl

Title: The Day of the Owl
Author: Leonardo Sciascia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1961 (Eng. 1963)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Day of the Owl - US
The Day of the Owl - UK
The Day of the Owl - Canada
The Day of the Owl - India
Le Jour de la chouette - France
Tag der Eule - Deutschland
Il giorno della civetta - Italia
El día de la lechuza - España
  • Italian title: Il giorno della civetta
  • Originally published in English as Mafia Vendetta
  • Translated by Archibald Colquhoun and Anthony Oliver
  • With an Introduction by George Scialabba

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp, short tale of depths of Sicilian corruption

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 19/3/1964 Bernard Wall
The Observer . 14/7/2001 John Dickie

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sciascia is an Orwellian. He has adopted the form of fiction, and has written a first-class story of suspense, almost a thriller. But his aim is a moral one, he wants to bring home to his readers what it is like to be a Sicilian under the mafia. (...) Absorbing as a novel, this book has much to say about Italy’s growing pains in the twentieth century." - Bernard Wall, The New York Review of Books

  • "The clockwork accessibility and beauty of Sciascia's prose suggest he wanted it to be an antidote to the silent complicity and self-deception confronting both him and his heroes. When he wrote about crime, he was also writing about truth, solitude and belonging." - John Dickie, The Observer

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:

       The Day of the Owl is, basically, a police procedural. Salvatore Colasberna, a contractor running the small Santa Fara Co-Operative Building Society with two of his brothers and a few others, was gunned down in in cold blood as he was about to catch the bus one morning. The victim was that rare thing: an honest man -- and that in a very corrupt business. It's clear to the man in charge of the investigation, Captain Bellodi, that the Mafia is behind the killing -- as, indeed, it is to all the locals, too. But the northerner -- Bellodi is from Parma -- faces a closed society that knows only to avert its eyes and dissimulate: essentially no one, not even the victim's brothers, is willing to point Bellodi anywhere close to the truth; instead, clumsy efforts are made to mislead him. Nevertheless, he's an astute observer and knows what he's up against, and manages rather quickly to crack the case (which becomes a series of cases as the body-count rises).
       Sciascia's tight novella is a portrait of this corrupted society, so damaged that the locals don't even try to counter the forces oppressing them. Everyone accepts and reënforces the status quo. There are also scenes set in Rome, where the influential politicians and businessmen make sure the government doesn't bother needlessly meddling in Sicilian affairs.
       Bellodi cracks the case -- but it also crumbles. Facts don't suffice against the forces at work here, in this culture where it is the Santa Fara Co-Operative that is considered a "black sheep" -- because they submit honest tenders. And, as the man he knows is behind everything lectures (and warns) Bellodi:

     Truth is at the bottom of a well: look into it and you see the sun or the moon; but if you throw yourself in, there's no more sun or moon: just truth.
       Bellodi isn't destroyed by what happens -- though he does take a good, long vacation back home -- and he shows a continuing affection for Sicily (as did author Sciascia), and is set, at the end of the story, to return there to fight another day, still believing, against all odds, that something can be salvaged. And, indeed, The Day of the Owl is a sort of love-letter to Sicily -- a clear-eyed one that recognizes all its terrible faults, but nevertheless holds it dear. So, too:
Sicily is all a realm of fantasy, and what can anyone do there without imagination ?
       Stripped of almost any excess, and a stark contrast to contemporary procedurals, which would inflate and pad the story to many times the length, The Day of the Owl is a sharp, dark, and yet far from nihilistic tale. Sciascia plainly, simply, and directly shatters any illusions about Sicilian uniqueness. It is a thoroughly corrupt and damaged culture, he insists, but -- and that's the key to the success of his books about it -- he does so without belittling it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 September 2013

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The Day of the Owl: Reviews: 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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© 2013-2016 the complete review

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