Literary Islands: Vitaliano Brancati


I stumbled upon Vitaliano Brancati quite by accident in a bookstore at Messina. I was attracted by the title of one his books, I discovered after he was quite a prolific novelist and later his most famous novel Il Bel Antonio was developed into a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni, which became a classic of Italian cinema.

Being an opera fan I liked the idea of a pseudo-Don Giovanni being set in Sicily. Taking the novella home I discovered a rich caricature of the Sicilian male taken to strange extremes yet which has a core honesty that goes beyond any form of realism.

The main character, Giovanni Percolla is a master of the aristocratic Sicilian art of doing nothing, he sleeps a lot, chases after women with a voracious sexual appetite and lives at home with his two spinster sisters who spoil him terribly.


Brancati has created a rich grotesque baroque caricature, Giovanni’s world is dysfunctional and his sisters are as absurd as our Sicilian Don Giovanni is. The sisters claim to be war widows as statically so many young men died during the war that one of them was bound to have been their husband if they had married.

Everything changes when Giovanni falls in love gets married to Ninetta and he tries to get ahead in life by moving up North to Milan where he works more, sleeps less and adopts a bizarre routine of taking cold showers to develop strength and immunity.

The couple returns to Sicily after failing to adapt to life in Northern Italy. Socially they have been rejected and ostracized by the northerners and they are demoralized by the literal and metaphorical coldness of the North.


Giovanni suffers a physical and mental collapse due to the lack of sleep and returns to the opened arms of Sicily a pale, sickly and haggard shadow of himself.

Their return to the bosom of Sicily at first seems a defeat, yet after reviving himself with beautiful Sicilian slumber and sunshine he returns to a blessed routine of comfort.

A part cautionary tale, satire and caricature Don Giovanni in Sicily is masterfully written and is one of the most succinct, beautifully written Sicilian novellas I’ve ever read.

Browsing Amazon there is a translation of Don Giovanni in Sicily but it only has one review so I’m not sure of the quality of the translation. I suggest browsing around the likes of AbeBooks to see if there is another translation which looks better.







(Images: Thanks to Google)