Sicily: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves and Sarah Murdoch

To learn more about Sicily past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean (John Julius Norwich, 2006). Norwich is a great character and chronicler of Sicily. Here, he explores the connections between countries linked by the sea.
  • Midnight in Sicily (Peter Robb, 1996). Robb gives a detailed account of Sicily during the height of the Mafia's power, and the ties between organized crime and the Italian government.
  • On Persephone's Island (Mary Taylor Simeti, 1986). This personal account of an American who marries a Sicilian includes stories about Palermo, their countryside farm, and her Sicilian family.
  • The Peoples of Sicily, A Multicultural Legacy (Jacquline Alio and Louis Mendola, 2014). Sicily has been a unique, multicultural island for more than a thousand years; this book delves into how that has shaped its history.
  • Sicily, A Short History (John Julius Norwich, 2015). This readable account, covering 3,000 years of history, clearly sorts out the major events and characters.

Books: Fiction

  • Day of the Owl (Leonard Sciascia, 1961). This mystery focuses on the chilling effect the Mafia had on small-town life during the 1960s, when the Mafia's existence as a large-scale crime network was uncertain.
  • The Godfather (Mario Puzo, 1969). The Corleone family drama unfolds in this classic tale of crime, betrayal, and family honor. Following the success of The Godfather, Puzo continued the saga of this Mafia family in several novels, including The Sicilian (see below).
  • The Shape of Water (Andrea Camilleri, 1994). The first in this series of mysteries finds Inspector Salvo Montalbano investigating an embarrassing death and cover-up. This long-standing series is a comedic portrayal of Sicilian life and people, set in the south of the island.
  • The Sicilian (Mario Puzo, 1984). A continuation of the Godfather saga, this story focuses on Salvatore Giuliano, a famous bandit who became a folk hero.
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello, 1921). In this intellectual comedy by the Sicilian-born writer, six "unused" characters of an author's imagination demand lines to tell their stories.

Films

  • Cinema Paradiso (1988). An acclaimed movie director from Rome recalls his childhood in Sicily, where his friendship with projectionist Alfredo introduces him to the passion of his life (Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film).
  • Divorzio all'Italiana (1961). Marcello Mastroianni plays a married Sicilian baron who falls in love with his young cousin — but divorce is illegal at the time (Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay).
  • The Godfather: Part II (1974). The best of the famous trilogy focuses on the tormented early life of Sicilian-born Vito Corleone, establishment of the family business in New York, and the passing of control to his son Michael (6 Oscars, including Best Picture).
  • Il Gattopardo ("The Leopard," 1963). Set during the tumultuous unification of Italy, this Italian Gone with the Wind follows the decline of the Sicilian nobility in the 19th century (based on the 1956 novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa).
  • Il Postino (1994). On a beautiful island, a mailman is introduced to literature by a famous poet. (The movie was filmed in part on one of the Aeolian Islands, off Sicily's north coast.)
  • Inspector Montalbano (1999). This series (based on the books by Andrea Camilleri) follows a clever police chief inspector in provincial Sicily.
  • La Terra Trema (1948). This drama from the Giovanni Verga novel I Malavoglia is set in a coastal village north of Catania, where entire families of fishermen are at the mercy of greedy wholesalers. Director Luchino Visconti hired local people as actors.
  • Malèna (2000). Monica Bellucci plays Malèna, a sensual wife living by herself in a closed-minded Sicilian town while her husband is reported dead in World War II.
  • Salvatore Giuliano (1962). This real-life Robin Hood fought against the Italian government for the independence of Sicily — and eventually lost.

Sarah Murdoch is the co-author of the Rick Steves Sicily guidebook.