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Book Review: by Lang Reid
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
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
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.
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