Saturday, March 12, 2016

`Things Will Have to Change'

“Many of us have books that from time to time we need to reread. Whatever their other merits, for us they have a special quality, an insistence: they demand rereadings because they have entered our souls and will always provoke new responses. And each time readers who return to them do so in the knowledge that they will discover fresh pleasures and wider meanings which will leave them wondering how they managed to miss them before.”

Sir David Gilmour writes this in his foreword to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: A Biography through Images (Alma Books, 2013). Gilmour wrote his own more conventional life of the great novelist, The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Quartet Book, 1988), and since then has served as the English-language ambassador to the author of The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, published posthumously in 1958). Gilmour tells us he had read the novel three or four times by the age of thirty. I am also reading it again, on our trip to Atlanta, less than two years after my last return to the novel. When I was young, such devotion would have baffled me. Why repeat yourself when so many books remain unread? As Gilmour says, some books “we need to reread.” They are less “comfort food” than replenishment, hearty sustenance. Which reminds me of Lampedusa on one of his favorite subjects, food:

“Good manners apart, though, the appearance of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a mist laden with aromas, then chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken, and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni, to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”

Lampedusa’s theme of an ebbing world and a waning aristocratic order seems more pertinent than ever. Tancredi, Prince Fabrizio’s nephew, utters words we hear daily: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

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