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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Cosa Nostra

The very name ‘Cosa Nostra’ immediately brings to mind names such as Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Elliot Ness, Marlon Brando and the Valentines Day massacre, but this book, ‘Cosa Nostra’ is a much more in-depth look at the Sicilian heritage of one of the world’s most bloodthirsty family groups. Written by John Dickie, a senior lecturer in Italian Studies at University College, London, this is a weighty tome (ISBN 978-0-340-93526-2, 2007) complete with a very full bibliography and index. It is the work you would expect of an academic researcher.
Right at the outset, author Dickie brings forth one fact that many (myself included) have incorrect. That is that Mafia Families and blood families are two distinctly different entities. Being a member of a blood line family, many of whom have been inducted into the Mafia Family, does not automatically mean that all members of the blood line are Mafia. In fact, many members of a blood line family are unaware that they have relatives belonging to the Mafia.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, with each covering a time-span, dating back to the genesis of the Mafia in 1860, and then going through to the present day, being post 2003.
The genesis of the movement in Sicily is traced back to the overthrowing of Sicily in 1860 by Garibaldi, and its being handed back to Italy by him. However, that did not mean the island submitted in toto. Much political upheaval followed and in the midst of that were characters who could profit from it.
The book then details the problems suffered by a Dr Galati with his lemon groves. At that time, export of lemons was a very lucrative business, and loosely organized gangs sprang up to ensure that the harvest did actually make it onto the ships bound for abroad. The ‘protection’ racket was also a lucrative business, and the seeds of the Mafia flourished.
The chapter covering 1890-1904 dealt with the emerging political heavyweights and to read, “Votes are exchanged for favors: politicians and state officials appropriate public resources - jobs, contracts, licenses, pensions, grants - and reinvests them privately, in their personal support networks or clienteles.” Somehow, this all had a very familiar ring, and one is tempted to substitute rice for lemons!
The final page is a discussion of Sicilian politics, where the incumbent (and re-elected) governor of the island is a man on trial for links to the Cosa Nostra. Author Dickie opines that official charges of Mafia involvement would be “electoral poison in any other European country. In Sicily, they are still manifestly not.” And that was November 2006, the last entry in this journal.
At B. 450 for a 500 page book, this is an exceptionally inexpensive read. By the time you have digested it all, you will have a much greater insight into the way the Cosa Nostra came about, and the way it perpetrated its own image and mystique. Author Dickie is to be congratulated on exposing the truth behind the group, but one wonders if he has not made himself Sicily’s Salman Rushdie and the book another Satanic Verses.