Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily
Winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 1997
Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction
Peter Robb is an Australian author. He was born in Toorak, Melbourne in 1946 and spent his formative years in both Australia and New Zealand. Between 1978 and 1992 he spent most of his time in Naples and southern Italy, interspersed with sojourns in Brazil. At the end of 1992 he returned to Sydney.
His first book, Midnight in Sicily, was published in Australia in October 1996. It won the Victorian Premier's Literary Prize for non-fiction in 1997
His second book, M, a biography of the Italian artist Caravaggio, was published in Australia in 1998. The book provoked controversy on its publication in Britain in 2000.
In December 1999, he published, Pig's Blood and other fluids, a collection of three crime fiction novellas.
In October 2003, Robb published his fourth book, A Death in Brazil, which was named The Age's non-fiction book of the year for 2004.
He has taught at the University of Melbourne, the University of Oulu in Finland and the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples.
Clicca su questo link per vedere la home page di Peter Robb e sentire lui parlare:http://www.duffyandsnellgrove.com.au/authors/robb.htm
Peter Robb (Melbourne, 1946) è uno scrittore australiano.
Nato a Toorak, passò molti anni della sua vita formativa in Australia e Nuova Zelanda. Tra il 1978 e il 1992 si recò spesso a Napoli. DOVE INSEGNO' PER ALCUNI ANNI SIA PRIVATAMENTE CHE ALL'ISTITUTO ORIENTALE.
Il suo primo libro fu Midnight in Sicily, che fu pubblicato nell'ottobre del 1996 in Australia.
This was the Vucciria, in the mid-70s, the marketplace in Palermo that gave Peter Robb his most powerful sensual charge on arrival in the ancient city. The voice I heard was a Radio National broadcast of the first chapter of this astonishing book.
That menace, which invisibly fills the pages like a secret translation, is made painfully concrete in the details of Italy's recent history which are laid out here. But this is much more than a history of the mafia and its collaborations with Italy’s political class, a history recounted with more detail elsewhere. It is a kind of thesis, which is never stated outright, but which is the implication of the book as a whole. The thesis is that it is impossible to separate the political, culinary, artistic, criminal, architectural, literary, geographic, social and historical aspects of Italian culture without doing violence to one or all of them. Mafia, just as much as gelati or the paintings of Renato Guttuso, is a product of the Italian character; and one can’t come to a complete understanding of one without at least a partial understanding of the others.
This is where the book’s quality and its strangeness lies. Reading the reviews on the Amazon.com website, you can see how challenging and even unsatisfactory many people find this. What kind of book is this anyway? they seem to ask, unable to accommodate the fact that it can be historical nonfiction, memoir, art criticism and food writing all at once, often within a single page.
I was reminded of this when I came across this statement by Giulio Andreotti, the former Prime Minister and associate of some very dangerous people, about Sicily:
"I found myself with my stomach full of marvelous but terrible food, the pasta con le sarde, the cassata; and not only did I not understand a thing there but I was ill too. I wonder whether there's a connection between food like this and the growth of the mafia."
I read this book a few years ago, prompted into finding it by that radio broadcast, and bought it for friends. The main effect it had on me was to awaken a burning desire to see Italy, in particular the mezzogiorno, to study the language and read anything I could get my hands on about Italy’s recent history and particularly the mafia. I’m finally getting to satisfy that desire later this year.
If I have a criticism, it’s with the final quarter of the book, which deals mostly with the painful last months and death of the Sicilian expressionist Renato Guttuso, who recorded the Vucciria in all its glory. By this time, the weight of all the corpses recorded in the previous chapters starts to burden the reader, and the blood and the corruption becomes tedious and depressing. Right when the book really should be gathering to its climax, it begins to fall away and ends with a whimper.
The book has no reproductions, even though a great deal of time is taken describing pictures, like the painting by Guttuso of the Vucciria. And the lack of an index is a serious flaw, especially given that this the sort of book you end up picking up and rereading as certain things come back into focus every time you hear those names again on the news. Because this is a very recent history indeed. More information is coming to light all the time about the events recounted here.
I notice that since this book was published, Sicily’s main airport was re-named after the heroic antimafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. This is a good sign in a country which officially didn’t even admit the existence of the mafia until the 1980s, years after the word had become a cliché in Hollywood movies.
The world looks to Italy with the same fondness it reserves for very few others, like Ireland maybe; countries we all recognise have given us something important. We hope the spirit of the nation wins out, despite the spivs and chancers like Andreotti and the repellant Berlusconi.
The quality of Peter Robb's writing which stays in the mouth after you’ve read it is its overpowering sensuality, tinged with blood. It has the quality of a testimonial, given with generosity but also with truth. After reading it again, I felt that these are the sorts of things that need to be said, the history that certain countries have got to live with if they’ve got any chance at all.
Posted by Crritic!
Il suo secondo libro si intitola: "M. L'Enigma di Caravaggio" che fu pubblicato nel 1998 in Australia (con il titolo originale "M, a biography of the Italian artist Caravaggio") e nel 2001 in Italia da Mondadori. In questo libro Robb ripercorre la vita violenta e drammatica di Michelangelo Merisi, avvalendosi di documenti inediti e testimonianze, cercando una di dare spiegazione alla morte dell'artista, che fosse diversa da quella ufficiale.
Note di Copertina
"La migliore biografia di Caravaggio dal XVII secolo ... Robb ci offre la più convincente ricostruzione della strana scomparsa e morte di Caravaggio che io conosca. Si scuote di dosso il modo tradizionale di affrontare l'artista e getta su dipinti che credevamo di conoscere uno sguardo fresco e vivido. C'era bisogno di questo libro, e non avrebbe potuto scriverlo nessuno storico dell'arte." (John T. Spike, autore di Beato Angelico e Masaccio)
L'intera esistenza di Michelangelo Merisi, passato alla storia come Caravaggio, resta ancora oggi un enigma di grande fascino. Emerge da frammenti, "bugie alla polizia, reticenze in tribunale, confessioni estorte, denunce coatte, ricordi vendicativi", e per ricostruirla "occorre sensibilit� per il non detto, il fascicolo scomparso, la scheda cancellata, la conclusione tacita, la lacuna, il silenzio, il cenno d'intesa. I dati mancanti sulla vita e la morte di M compongono un loro proprio racconto, che scorre invisibile ma presente attraverso i fatti noti".
Grazie alla sua brillante vena narrativa, Peter Robb fa rivivere in queste pagine l'artista e i suoi dipinti nella loro avvincente e ricca drammatici. Dall'infanzia in Lombardia, al lungo periodo trascorso a Roma - tra cardinali, cortigiane e fanciulli seducenti che Caravaggio ritrasse senza celare i propri desideri sessuali - quando si afferm� come uno dei pi� grandi pittori del momento. Gli ultimi anni furono trionfali professionalmente ma catastrofici sul piano personale: "bandito" da Roma perch� omicida, in continua fuga, fu a Paliano, a Napoli, quindi a Malta, dove, per i suoi meriti artistici, fu nominato Cavaliere, ma presto, per un delitto tanto grave da non poter essere citato nei verbali, fu imprigionato e condannato. Evaso dalla prigione, scapp� in Sicilia e di nuovo a Napoli, fino al 1610, quando scomparve in circostanze misteriose. Robb rifiuta le versioni classiche sulla sua morte, secondo cui sarebbe deceduto febbricitante su una spiaggia a Porto Ercole, e la inserisce in un inquietante contesto di vendetta per motivi sessuali, tradimento, agguato e collusioni di stato, rivelando il nome di chi, con ogni probabilità, fu il mandante del suo assassinio.
Caravaggio ha cambiato l'arte per sempre. "In un'epoca in cui l'arte era prigioniera prima delle idee, poi dell'ideologia, egli intraprese una decisa e solitaria esplorazione di che cosa significasse vedere la realtà delle cose e delle persone." Rinnegando la tecnica e il dogma consolidati, dipingendo senza disegno direttamente sulla tela, riuscì a rendere la brutale realt� in modo nuovo e sconvolgente.
M è più di una biografia tradizionale: E' lo straordinario romanzo vero di Caravaggio, la cui vita viene ricostruita attraverso documenti inediti, verbali giudiziari, testimonianze contemporanee. Pagina dopo pagina i personaggi che vediamo ritratti nelle tele ci diventano familiari e i dipinti, anche i più famosi e conosciuti, acquistano una nuova vitalità, perdendo la patina di cui spesso i libri di storia dell'arte li hanno ricoperti.
Nel dicembre del 1999 viene pubblicato "Pig's Blood and other fluids", collezione di tre romanzi criminali.
Nell'ottobre del 2003 Robb pubblicò il suo quarto libro: "A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions", nel quale Robb dipinge il Brasile come un luogo dale passioni estreme.
Robb ha insegnato nelle Università di Melbourne, Oulu (Finlandia) e all'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli.
A writer's life: Peter Robb
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 06/06/2004
"I don't know – one likes a bit of drama in life. And I'd had a certain number of whiskies by that time." Peter Robb is recalling the moment he decided to confront a ruthless Brazilian politician in a restaurant and accuse him of murdering his own brother.
"I'd been pursuing him for such a long time. I'd given up – that's why I'd drunk too much. Then, suddenly, there he was, a few tables away. I couldn't resist. Walking back to my hotel down an unlit street, I thought, 'This is the stupidest thing I've ever done.' Killings to order in Brazil cost a couple of hundred dollars. It's an industry."
Robb's fearlessness is one of the key components of his outstanding new book, A Death in Brazil. Impossible to corral into a single genre, it draws on travelogue, history, memoir, thriller, investigative journalism and cookery writing. It creates a heady and fascinating picture of an extraordinary country. Robb was born in Toorak, near Melbourne, and for all the rhythmic elegance and dynamism of his prose, the sophistication of his vision, what unifies the book's disparate styles is a no-nonsense tone that is very Australian.
advertisement"I'm not a great reader of history, but I like plundering books for the interesting bits," he says. "Where all the information is so remarkable and entertaining that there is no effort involved in reading it – I admire that. You've got to keep people interested, and interested in things they might not think they're interested in. Maybe people who don't care about slavery might want to read about Brazilian cuisine. One employs the arts of seduction."
For many years an itinerant teacher, Robb did not write his first book until eight years ago, when he was 50. "Writing was not a plan or an ambition," he says. "My motivation was quite banal – it was simply a way of making a living. When I came back from Italy in the early 1990s, Australia was in a deep recession. Teaching English was a shrinking market. I was out of work and approaching middle age.
"I began writing pieces for a magazine and, when it folded, the editor decided to be a publisher. At the same time, the trial of [prime minister] Andreotti was about to start in Italy, which fascinated me. The idea that all this history, which I thought would never be known, was about to be made public – that gripped me."
Robb persuaded the would-be publisher to stand him the air fare to Naples, where he had lived for 15 years, and then to Palermo to cover an unprecedented set of hearings that were to expose the full extent of the links in Italy between government and the mafia. Midnight in Sicily, his resulting book about the trials and modern Italy in general, was published in 1996 to rapid acclaim: "Simply the best book in English about Italy," said The Economist.
More polarised opinions greeted the follow-up, called M, a passionate and stylised book about Michelangelo.
It did very well in America, despite some savage attacks in this country. "That didn't worry me," he says.
"I consciously wrote it to get up people's noses. Art history is a terrible genre, have you ever tried reading any of it? It was terrific fun to do – and very hectic. At one point, I was working 20 hours a day.
"I lived in Italy for 15 years and I didn't make a single note," he continues. "I had never thought of writing a book. But when I came to write Midnight in Sicily, it came pouring out.''
It's little surprise to discover that those years in Italy were also something of an accident. Robb was heading for South America, but took a diversion via Europe, got derailed and ended up staying. From 1982, Robb was reassembling his South America plan, making three-month forays to Brazil as often as he could.
"Having got there, I found it was an entire universe in itself," he says. Over a 20-year period, Robb burrowed into Brazil, learning Portuguese, making friends and enemies, always asking questions. A Death in Brazil, which follows the rise and fall of the corrupt Fernando Collor, president from 1990 to 1992, is a dazzling testament to his appetite for knowledge and understanding.
"When you spend a lot of time somewhere, the first glamour wears off and you become more conscious of the underpinnings of this place that was so gloriously attractive. It's a question I continuously ask: what is the connection between what you adore about a place and what sickens you about it? I've been through phases of being revolted by Brazil. The same with southern Italy. It's a matter of intellectual honesty – you can't just ignore the things that you don't like.
"They are quite similar societies: the political and social structures are Mediterranean, and, politically, they are appalling. They are the exact opposite of the English-speaking countries, which are relatively well governed and provide a framework for people's lives, but which, I think, are rather soulless. There is something that is lost in that efficiency. Mediterranean countries tend to be humanly richer, but socially appalling. It's a perpetual riddle."
Robb lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Sydney, surrounded by "crates of newspaper clippings, photocopies, books, magazines". His gift is to be able to shape and edit this material into a form that is fluid, informative and entertaining. "There are things you want people to know," he says. "On one level, it's a hard-headed calculation: you do not want to bore people. So you have to vary the content. But what has come to fascinate me is the interconnectedness of everything. The way that different elements of people's lives interpenetrate."
Though he pops up in the more straightforward passages of memoir in A Death in Brazil, Robb is a curiously elusive presence. "I don't like writing about myself," he says. "But, to make this discursive style of writing work, you are the necessary linking factor. You can't not be in it. I hate all that 'I' stuff people write, but, in the end, it's your experience – you are the person leading the reader through this maze. You are the one element linking all these heterogeneous things – you are the narrative structure."
I wonder what he might write about next. He laughs. "Unfortunately, I have now more or less exhausted my experience of the last few decades. But I'm not particularly worried – I have a vague project to go to Los Angeles and take a bus south, through Mexico, Central America and then to Colombia. I think that might be quite interesting."
'A Death in Brazil' is published by Bloomsbury
Liberalism, Modernity, and the Nation: Empire, Identity, and India (2007)
Peasants, Political Economy, and Law: Empire, Identity, and India (2007)
A History of India (2004)
A Death in Brazil (2003)
Pig's Blood and other fluids (1999)
M. L'enigma di Caravaggio (M, 1998)
Ancient Rights and Future Comfort: Bihar, the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885, and British Rule in India (1997)
Midnight in Sicily (1996)
Per tornare alla home page..cliccate sul link: