Looking for some reading material to take to Sicily? If you haven’t encountered Inspector Montalbano yet, perhaps now is the time. He is the creation of Andrea Camilleri, currently Italy’s best-selling author (two million copies in 2010) and also the most translated of any Italian writer. His works have appeared in 37 countries, from Turkey and Israel to Japan and Korea, though his most ardent admirers outside Italy are in the USA and Germany.
Camilleri was born in 1925, in Porto Empedocle, on the coast southwest of Agrigento. The difficult task of rendering Camilleri’s idiosyncratic mix of Sicilian and Italian into other languages has been tackled with enthusiasm and imagination by his translators, doubtless contributing to his worldwide success. For the English versions, poet Stephen Sartarelli has invented a blend of New York-Brooklyn and Italian slang, describing his notable efforts as ‘fun’.
Episodes in recent Sicilian history, both amusing and sad at the same time, are made all the more credible by Camilleri’s deft character descriptions and his thorough understanding of human nature—but it was the invention of Inspector Salvo Montalbano that finally brought him fame. Salvo’s unorthodox investigations into the mysterious, sometimes horrific, crimes of his district are often hindered by his superiors, but are always successful, thanks to his stubbornness and intuition. No traditional hero, this man has plenty of human failings. Montalbano likes life. Cigarettes and strong coffee, long morning swims, abundant Sicilian food, the glass or so of whisky with his friend Ingrid, are to him as necessary as breathing. The fact that his fiancée lives in Genoa gives him freedom—he would find it difficult to share his existence with anybody on a permanent basis.
Porto Empedocle takes its name from the ancient philosopher Empedocles, born in Agrigento in the 5th century BC. He died a famous and dramatic death, by hurling himself into Mount Etna. In 2003 the little resort adopted another official name, Vigata, the name by which it is known in the Inspector Montalbano novels. If you find yourself getting really hooked, when in Sicily, take the Treno Montalbano, which runs between Syracuse and Scicli (every Saturday from April to October) visiting locations used in the popular TV series based on the novels.