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In 1957, Giuseppe Tomasi, the last Prince of the Sicilian Lampedusa family, died impoverished and unknown, leaving behind the manuscript of a book he had recently finished. The following year the book, The Leopard, was published in Italy and has since been widely translated and recognized as one of the great novels of the twentieth century. For over a quarter of a century, the reclusive man's papers were hidden from the public, until David Gilmour was befriended by Lampedusa's adopted son. From letters, diaries and notebooks, Gilmour has brought to life the unlikely character of this enigmatic genius, and his milieu in Sicily and Europe. The Last Leopard is a fascinating meditation on what makes a writer and a masterpiece.
At age 47 Giuseppe Tomasi, prince of Lampedusa (1896-1957), still slept in the bedrom where he had been born. The abnormally taciturn recluse, who mined the history of his Sicilian aristocratic family in its ruinous decline for his classic novel The Leopard , had a ``vexatious, disappointing and often pathetic life.'' His arrogant, sharp-tongued father, fueled by a ridiculous sense of pride, spent much of his life quarreling with relatives over money. Lampedusa's domineering mother nearly wrecked her son's marriage to psychoanalyst Beatrice Mastrogiovanni, a largely epistolary relationship for years at a stretch. In this elegant, sprightly biography, Gilmour ( Lebanon: The Fractured Country ) draws an incisive portrait of a curious modernist outsider deeply skeptical of all human motives. Lampedusa's fictional counterpart, Don Fabrizio, The Leopard 's protagonist, likewise seems a contemporary figure swinging from hedonistic pursuits to the contemplation of eternity without a personal God. Photos.