January 14, 2016
The Four Corners of Palermo
by Giuseppe Di Piazza
Price: $ 14.95
by Chris Gramuglia
The Four Corners of Palermo is a window into a war waged by the Sicilian Mafia in the early 1980s.
Giuseppe Di Piazza’s debut novel is filled with raw depictions of violence and crime, moral depravity and fierce power struggles. Di Piazza spent time as a crime reporter, and his main character, a crime journalist in his early twenties, captures such horrors as a father murdering his own children and the beheading of a man in a town square, with engaging, meticulous detail. Throughout each of the four stories in the novel, the brutality of the mafia is juxtaposed with the protagonist's attempts at lightening his emotional load.
There is no shortage of references to Sicilian food and landmarks, and allusions to the inherently Sicilian ideas of honor, familial relationships and vengeance. These cultural details make Di Piazza's narrative feel that much more authentic. As enjoyable as those passages are, the driving force of the narrative is the protagonist's continued struggle with the horrific world around him. As a way of escaping his job, the protagonist engages in a series of sexual relationships with beautiful women. Even in moments in which the protagonist genuinely enjoys chasing girls and getting drunk, the young crime reporter is reminded of the turmoil that has become part of his everyday life and the lives of Palermo citizens. “There was a sharp contrast between the death around us and the beauty inside us,” he explains. “We were attractive young people, our hair was tousled, we were cheerful, and we were forced to employ our talents in a theater of horror.”
During the novel’s first crime—a shootout in the streets—the young journalist is full of bravado and vigor. He is seemingly unaffected by the gory scene he encounters. However, with each new crime the reporter is forced to come to terms with the truth about Palermo and its people. His relationship with a woman named Sophie represents the dichotomy of horror and beauty that can be found in Di Piazza’s novel. The journalist seems infatuated with Sophie when she arrives from Paris. He notices her “graceful loveliness” that he had “never before encountered in any woman...” The reporter begins sleeping with Sophie only to discover later that she is addicted to heroin. Palermo is also the world capital of heroin trafficking as a direct result of Mafia activity. The narrator's relationship with Sophie soon ends and he is again left with no form of respite.
The protagonist never finds any emotional closure, even at the end of the last story. Di Piazza's decision to conclude the novel on a macabre note at first feels like an abrupt, inconclusive end to the narrator's cycle of despair. Nevertheless, the dark ending fits the themes of the book. Instead of pacifying readers with a happy conclusion, Di Piazza’s novel posits that life is a struggle to compartmentalize the sad, uncomfortable experiences and to relish the good moments, regardless of how few and far between they may be.
The Four Corners of Palermo is a well-researched, genuine portrait of a city in turmoil. Di Piazza's commitment to authenticity and his exploration of the harsh truths of humanity make this first novel a thought-provoking, vibrant literary work.