Writing Sicilian Shadows began as a cathartic exercise, pulling the threads of my childhood together into a narrative whole. I was trying to find myself, trying to figure out why I was so Sicilian, even though I was Home Counties born and bred.
It soon became obvious that I was also a repository of a hidden history of a hidden people that were content to hide in the shadows and continue their way of life while masking equally their achievements and their misdemeanours.
Everyone in the world has heard about the Mafia – Russian criminals now proudly announce that they are the heir apparent – BUT what is the Mafia? Why did it evolve and thrive so well in Sicily? I realised as I jotted down my first chapters that I may have an answer – after all I had sat on the kneeof Don Bbeppe Russo, the second in command to the legendary Don CaloVizzini, as he ruffled my hair and inquired of my family line.
My life began in the unassuming London suburb of Walton-on-Thames. Born to Sicilian immigrants with work permits and jobs (my father on a local farm and my mother, a dressmaker). At seven my suburban reality was shattered when my father dispatched us to Mussomeli,the heartland of the Cosa Nostra.
It is assumed that children have the capacity to adapt quickly, to make the best of a situation; and Idid. It just happened that my situationincluded Sicilians and the customsof the Mafia. Much is written about the Mafia – it is often stylised, caricatured and misinformed. I witnessed the true face of it; the peasant background, the obsession with family DNA, the adherence to a homophobic and male chauvinistic code of honour and its callous,brutal crimes.
The rigid yetnurturing patriarchal society I was dumped into was detached by more than distance from the close by, cosmopolitan city of Palermo, the paparazzi glitz of 1960s Italy and it was centuries apart from the jolly England I had left. I survived this alien environment by first mastering the language, and then learning my place as a Sicilian male – a challenge that I’ll leave to the reader to decide whether I overcameor not .
I wanted my story to present what it was really like to live with the people – and the generation – that re-energized the Mafia. I wanted to write something that would move people’s perceptions away from the myths and legends that have grown up around the Cosa Nostra and the slickly presented representations of the Mafia in movies; these were real people with real lives.
The book carries with it its own sense of danger. As I return to Sicily with my family it will be with trepidation – how will relatives, friends and acquaintances react to my frank (no pun intended) account? They will assuredlyrecognise the families, places and events that I have tried to disguise.
Revisiting my unconventional childhood was as much a journey for me as it will be for the reader; cathartic? Perhaps, but the fear remains. – I might be forgiven the revelation of past acts -both good and bad- but how will I be regarded for taking away the shadows?
Sicily has changed, the people have changed, but one commandment remains: maintain ‘nabbonafigura’ (a good image), and I have broken that with this book.
Sicilian Shadows, by Francesco Scannella is published by Medina Publishing at £13.99, available from all good book shops and Amazon.co.uk