A Cheat Sheet for Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl
The Day of the Owl, or Il giorno della civetta (1961) by Leonardo Sciascia is primarily a murder mystery, but it also grants a perspective on criminal justice, particularly of the privileged peoples’ exemption from the harshest consequences of the law. It’s a timeless struggle: bullies get what they want, at the expense of average people. As broadcasted daily via President Trump’s Twitter, this struggle is as relevant now as ever before.
I came across this book by chance, as so often happens to used book store aficionados like me. Having met a friend for coffee at Red Cup Cafe, I was in Chesterton. Since I didn’t feel like going home, I took a stroll down Broadway instead, passing a bank, a yoga studio, and some overpriced boutiques. To my delight, O’Gara and Wilson Used Books was open. I stepped in.
As the door swung open, its bell jingled. I was greeted by the proprietor, a grey haired man with a ruddy complexion and golded-rimmed glasses. He directed me towards the science fiction (he must have remembered me) and even handed me a Philip K. Dick novel (Unfortunately, it was one I had checked out from the library and read already). I perused the rest of his sci-fi, but found nothing I wanted. I felt bad that he saved a book for me that I didn’t want and I didn’t want to leave empty-handed.
A sci-fi fanatic, I usually don’t browse the general literature section, besides when looking for specific authors. However, circumstance drew me to the literature shelves. With people looking at both outer shelves, I approached the middle shelf: authors with last names that start with the middle alphabet. A small grey paperback said Sciascia on the side. I liked the last name, and the book was small and in good condition. I brought it to the register, and the man admitted that he’d never heard of the author.
That night, I looked up Sciascia. At the very least, I wanted to know how to say his name.
Leonardo Sciascia, pronounced like sha-sha, (1921–1989) was a Sicilian writer and politician. His first work, Fables of the Dictatorship, was published in 1950. This satire on fascism paved the road for political commentary in Sciascia’s work for decades. He took his political work to the public sphere, holding positions in both the Italian Chamber and the European Parliament for Southern Italy as a member of the Italian Communist Party and the Radical Party.
After I read the Wikipedia page on Sciascia, as well as a few fan reviews of his work on Goodreads, I decided to read the book. I was interested if it would read more like a story or like political propaganda, since he appeared to be more of a political figure than a literary person.
THE DAY OF THE OWL turned out to be a pretty fun murder mystery. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Agatha Christie, as well as anyone interested in Sicilian or Italian fiction. It’s both literary and political, a creative murder mystery that also calls out the mafia at a time when many Italians denied its existence.
Taking place in Sicily, The Day of the Owl contains many Italian terms and names. Use this cheat sheet below for reference (contains spoilers):
Calgaro Dibella — informant to Captain Bellodi
Captain Bellodi — Commander of Carabinieri of C.; he is from North Italy (not Sicilian)
Ciccio La Rosa — false lead given to Bellodi by Dibella
Diego Marchica — a notorious criminal in Sicily
Don Ciccio — local barber who gossips about the townsfolk
Paolo Nicolosi — tree pruner gone down into the chiarchiaro
Salvatore Colasberna — a man murdered in front of a bus in Sicily
Saro Pizzuco — a credible lead given to Bellodi by Dibella; an elderly man with likely ties to the mafia
bargello — a term for a law officer; ingiuria for a bad dog who bites
carabinieri — the Italian law enforcement
chiarchiaro — a stony landscape of caves, ditches, and ravines
‘An owl said to its owlets: we’ll all meet in the end at the chiarchiaro,’ adding that perhaps this meant we shall all meet again in death (Sciascia 86).
coshe — plural for local mafia groups (singular is cosca)
ingiuria — a symbolic nickname. Most Sicilians have one.
lupara — a sawed off shotgun used by the mafia
parrinieddu — meaning little priest; Dibella’s ingiuria
sotto voce — almost inaudible
zicchinetta — a Sicilian game of chance; Diego’s ingiuria