Sicilian Shadows

This compelling memoir of a young boy’s struggle for survival in the heartland of the Mafia is a story of tragic young love and centuries-old hatreds told with wry humour and brutal honesty.

No-one from that region with the author’s connections or perspective has ever written about what it was really like. For obvious reasons, names, times and places have been changed (to protect the innocent and, in many cases, the guilty), as the author has a family and a life – but these events and experiences really happened.

This is no sentimental homage to the past.” Francesco Scannella

In paperback. Hardback out of stock.


Sicilian Shadows recounts the life of Francesco Scannella, whose world turns upside down when he is uprooted from his English suburban home, and sent to the heartland of the Cosa Nostra. As a result he forgets that he ever spoke English and survives by the sharpness of his wit and the strength of his fists, adopting the machismo ways of his elders. Consequently, every day is a fight for survival, gang violence is the norm, and the Mafia rules.

In this compelling memoir, the author throws open a window on the true nature of Sicilians. He explains how and why they turn to the Mafia and how desperate life was at the time. He tells with wry humour and brutal honesty of tragic young love; of how a school friend became an assassin; of politics and philosophy, cookery and cryptozoology. Frank Sinatra makes an appearance, as does the father of the modern Mafia, Don Caló Vizzini.

Sicilian Shadows is an absorbing story of the loss of innocence, a homage to a homeland, and a history lesson about one of the most misunderstood societies in the world. A Sicily that was light years away from cosmopolitan Palermo and the paparazzi glitz of 1960s Italy.

‘I should have been English.
I should have stood in pristine flannels, proudly fielding at silly mid-off.
I should have faced spinners with a stiff upper lip and stroked fours all around the village green. I would have bowled like the wind and walked without the umpire’s finger.
But I’m not English, I’m Sicilian.
You know – big weddings, big mouths, big love of kids, horses’ heads under the sheets, fat women all in black and heaps of eggplant parmesan that make for big stomachs.
I’m Sicilian but I don’t understand why.
I don’t sit in a barber’s chair with a slightly dull cut-throat razor rasping over my Adam’s apple or relax under a palm drinking double espressos, laughing with peers and holding out my hand to be kissed in fealty.
I couldn’t stand silently in a dimly-lit stairwell to exact vengeance with a knife or gun and a shard of ice for my heart.
My name is Francesco, Franco, Frank.’

Available in paperback.

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Additional information

Dimensions 22.8 × 15.2 cm

9781909339262 (Hardcover)

9781909339279 (Paperback)


17 July 2014

1 review for Sicilian Shadows

  1. Best of Sicily

    By 11/09/14

    Sicilian Shadows by Francesco Scannella. (Memoir) Recounting the story of a ten year-old boy in a town in west-central Sicily during two years around 1970, this is without doubt the best childhood memoir set in Sicily ever published in English. Gritty, blunt and disquieting, it tells a tale of violence, backwardness and many other things that most of today’s Sicilians would prefer to forget. Indeed, hardly anybody born in Sicily after 1980 has any sense that the place was so primitive so recently, with perhaps just a few telephones and televisions in the typical rural locality of several thousand residents. Not only is this disturbing account compelling, it makes most of the books that follow in this list – and indeed most of the fiction mentioned on this page – seem, by comparison, like candy for the masses. Bizarre as it may occasionally seem, this book is the main course. The true story culminates in the murder of a Mafioso’s teenage son which (though this is not made clear in the text) led to five reprisal killings over the next few months. Scannella’s insightful book works at so many subtle levels – Sicily’s relative poverty as part of the “new” Italy after 1860, the nobility’s exploitation of the poor, the effects of Fascism, bigotry against Italians living abroad in the 1960s, immigration and cultural assimilation – that it would take a team of anthropologists and historians to analyze it completely. Be warned: This book is not for the faint of heart!

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