|The streets of Palermo, Sicly|
The Leopard (1958)
by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Leopard is an outlier when considered against the neo-realistic trend of Italian art in the late 1950s and 1960s. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was Italian nobility, the last Prince of Lampedusa, a small island off the southern coast of Sicily, and he wrote The Leopard in secret after World War II. It was published after his death in the late 1950s, and immediately became a world-wide publishing sensation, a reputation that persists today, see the 2012 Observer list of "10 best historical novels."
The Leopard is based on the life of Lampedusa's grandfather and his family during the Italian unification process of the mid 19th century (called Risorgimento in Italy.) Much of the pleasure of The Leopard is not derived from the plot, but rather the description of this lost way of life, the life of the nobility of Sicily in the period immediately after the beginning of the "modern period" in Italian history. Lampedusa's aristocrats are mild and inoffensive, and much of the book is about the compromises that the Prince needs to make to accommodate modernity, notably the marriage of a favorite nephew to the beautiful daughter of a wealthy local bourgeois.
But I'll tell you, if this book doesn't make you seriously consider a visit to Sicily, nothing will.