Mastr'Antria and other stories – by Andrea Giostra
Review by Maria Teresa De Donato
With Mastr'Antria and other stories, Andrea Giostra explores some themes and concepts expressed in his previous work Novelle brevi di Sicilia (= Short Stories of Sicily).
In this sense, his new and unpublished literary work becomes the flagship of modern and contemporary Sicilian literature and a true standing ovation to his native land.
The beauties and riches of this stunning island, which boasts a millenary history, culture, and traditions known and appreciated worldwide, are exalted and brought to light in all their splendor.
The ongoing and slow flow of time, and the day-to-day life that becomes its heritage, uses, and behavioral habits are carefully observed by the author and described in great detail that lay bare its essence.
Generational behavioral changes are put under a magnifying lens and scrutinized. From the generation of Mastr'Antria, or Grandpa Andrea, who returned more or less immune from seven years of imprisonment in the concentration camps in Sydney, Australia, where he was deported by the British at the end of the Second World War and lived – according to him – quite well, and didn't miss anything, we moved on to the era of nonsense, the loss of human depth and an unprecedented weakening of character.
Difficulties once spurred past generations to reflection, personal redemption, and, therefore, to growth, inner transformation, and, finally, to survival, to the possibility of making one's way in the world. Those generations are contrasted by one today, which, on the contrary, perceives any problem, even the smallest, as an insuperable drama to be avoided instead of an opportunity to grow, strengthen one's character, and learn to relate to others and the circumstances as they arise.
The use of dialect is one of the fundamental aspects of this novel. Together with the others already mentioned, it also becomes a tool for recovering and disseminating tradition, one's culture, roots, and one's 'Sicilianity.'
The sense of sacredness, linked to spirituality or, in this case, to religiosity and, above all, to life itself, is always present. It also becomes the dominant factor from the beginning to the end of this work.
The culinary art of the family adds up to the cultural, artistic, and landscape richness of Sicily, above all of Grandma Vita, whose recipes, respecting the best and millenary tradition, have nothing to envy to those "of the increasingly imitated nouvelle cuisine" (A Giostra, 2020, p. 101) and its delicacies that are consumed in the "two hours of conditioned socializing at Tribeca" (p. 102) essential to meet the people who matter.
Mastr'Antria and other stories is not, however, only the novel of Sicily, the recovery and enhancement of its culture, of its dialect, and the enchantment that one feels towards this extraordinary land, nor only a sort of diary in which the events described testify and immortalize the passage of time and the lives of those who preceded us or that we lived ourselves. This work is also, above all, a hymn to Love, to Sentimental Relationships – whatever they are and regardless of how long they last or the possibility or impossibility – on our part of feeling ourselves connected psychologically, affectively, emotionally forever to another person. It is a hymn to Eroticism in the purest and broadest sense of the term, to Passion and Carnality lived spontaneously, without inhibitions, rules, fears, prejudices, or false modesty, but in complete and total freedom, awareness, abandonment, enthusiasm, and authenticity.
It is, even if in a veiled way, an encouragement to pay attention to the everyday life that can ruin and even blow up the relationship, transforming it from erotic and passionate into a simple, ordinary, predictable, monotonous, and, therefore, boring routine.
The language, flowing and direct, is equally refined in style and tone, sometimes melancholy, sometimes humorous, and occasionally comical; it immerses the reader in the stories and dynamics of events by catapulting him into a world which, however modern, seems to have preserved, more or less intact, all the charm and splendor of its rich past.
I really appreciated a book that fascinated and transported me, for its elegance and refinement, to the times of Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi from Lampedusa; which can be read in one breath and whose reading – despite being intended for an adult audience – I am happy to recommend.