An NYRB Classics Original
In the last two years of his life, the Sicilian aristocrat Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote not only the internationally celebrated novel The Leopard but also three shorter pieces of fiction, brought together here in a new translation.
“The Professor and the Siren,” like The Leopard, meditates on the past and the passage of time, and also on the relationship between erotic love and learning. Professor La Ciura is one of the world’s most distinguished Hellenists; his knowledge, however, came at the cost of a loss that has haunted him for his entire life. This Lampedusa’s final masterpiece, is accompanied here by the parable “Joy and the Law” and “The Blind Kittens,” a story originally conceived as the first chapter of a followup to The Leopard.
The reputation of Sicilian writer Lampedusa rests entirely on his lone novel The Leopard, written at the end of his life and published posthumously. That said, the title story from this slim collection is a classic of weird fiction revolving around Italian Senator Rosario La Ciura, an eminent Greek scholar and surely one of the most memorable old cranks in literature. His insolent diatribes are gorgeously rendered making it all the more jarring when they give way to a moving recollection of his love affair with a magical and wild creature whose memory beckons the scholar from the deep. "Joy and the Law" is a vaguely condescending workplace fable about a hapless clerk who spends his meager earnings returning the generosity of an employer; and "The Blind Kittens" isn't a story at all, but the first chapter of an unfinished novel concerning the wealthy Don Batassano Ibba, whose holdings may be as exaggerated as the stories the locals tell of his mysterious lifestyle. The recent memory of Italian fascism lurks in the background of these posthumously published stories, which, taken for what they are, reinforce Lampedusa's acknowledged mastery of prose but only the title story extends it.