The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Pantheon Books, 1960, 285 pp
The #3 bestseller in 1960 is historical fiction, translated from Italian. It was the Sicilian author's only novel and when it was published in Italy, became that country's top-selling novel ever! Today it is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature, according to Wikipedia.
Sicilian nobleman Don Fabrizio Corbera's world is being forever changed. The 1860 revolutionary Garibaldi along with his Redshirts set into motion the Risorgimento, resulting in the unification of Italy into a nation. For Don Fabrizio, this meant the disintegration of his family as nobility due to an erosion of Italy's class system and the rise of a moneyed middle class.
Of course, this is not an isolated story. The Age of Enlightenment, begun by 17th century philosophers and leading to upheavals all over the continent, eventually changed the entire Western world. In the 18th and 19th centuries, nobles losing their good thing was the story.
The Leopard's author was the last in a line of minor princes in Sicily and wrote his novel, based on the life of his great-grandfather, in an effort to combat depression after his palace was bombed during World War II. His style is a wonderful mix of human insight, humor, philosophy, and nostalgia.
The old prince Fabrizio, a womanizer who also loves his wife, a thinker and astronomer, father of daughters, places his hope for the future on a favorite nephew. He foresees the downfall of his family and the nobility, but knows he is powerless to prevent it.
Besides the engaging prose and evocation of a long gone lifestyle, I was drawn in to an understanding of what it was like for such people to see their way of life crumble. Lampedusa also seems to be questioning if the lower classes were really any better off under "democracy." He shows how serving a prince or a noble family gave them a sort of honor that could not be replaced under the new political system. Maybe so, maybe not.
(The Leopard is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)