«My inspiration is in these places»: the Sicilian Cristina Cassar Scalia and her “hundred horse chestnut” in Taobuk


By John

He certainly saw well. And it couldn’t be otherwise, once you become an ophthalmic doctor by profession. A doctor who decided to write novelsuntil the turn in the direction of noir, coinciding with another direction: that towards success.
In summary, This is the story of Cristina Cassar ScaliaSicilian writer, author of the successful saga dedicated to the vice commissioner Vanina Guarrasi, protagonist of the novels published by Einaudi and which became TV series. Yesterday she was a guest at the inaugural day of Taobuk – theme 2024 Identities – e presented his latest book The chestnut of one hundred horses.

Let’s think about the double soul of Vanina, capable of a complex operation: making the Palermo part coexist with the Catania part…
«Vanina is absolutely from Palermo – Cassar Scalia immediately clarifies – the anomaly, if we want to call it that, lies in the fact that she lives well in Catania. But this aspect derives from her past, from the reason why she had to leave Palermo. She is always the same and she feeds on important contradictions. Resolute and without hesitation at work, she is the opposite of her in her private life: a woman with many fragilities, all linked to her past.”

The victim of his new book, the lumberjack, is a woman apparently without a past…
«I can say little so as not to run the risk of revealing too much. It is certainly difficult to delve into his past, an operation which, however, the deputy commissioner tends to do as a method of investigation. It is precisely from this fundamental technique that his understanding with Inspector Patanè was born, a true historical memory, which helps him in deciphering the victims. This latest case is much more complicated than the previous ones, however.”

Speaking of identity, let’s talk about Sicily with a hundred, thousand faces…
«I am Sicilian from the south, from Noto, adopted from Catania and in love with Palermo».

So his is a vice that he passed on to Vanina…
«Yes, this facet comes from me and from my way of seeing Sicily, a land with different identities resulting from crossbreeding of peoples, a rather cumbersome character in my books. I like to think of it as a set of sub-regions, each of which is imbued with the traditions of cultures that arrived from outside and have left profound traces, depending on the territories and the ways of mixing with the local people.”

Even his Sicilian is, so to speak, mixed…
«I use it in dialogues to color the narrative. I think it is plausible to use it especially when an elderly person like Inspector Patanè or Spanò speaks. I care a lot about different dialectal identities, I give space to Catanese terms and other Palermo ones depending on the character.”

The choice of noir for his stories has a very specific moment…
«It happened while visiting an ancient villa inherited from friends, uninhabited for years, with curtains and dusty majolica. At a certain point a freight elevator appeared to me and my writer’s imagination immediately placed a corpse there. It started like this, and I created Vanina thinking of a character that I would have liked to find in a book. I made it the way I like it. At the time I didn’t even know if anyone would ever publish the book…”

We know, however, how it went: Einaudi appreciated it and published it, the readers bought it. And more stories came. And even a TV series Vanina, a deputy police commissioner in Catania with Giusy Buscemi
«She fell into the role perfectly. Anyway, fiction and books. they are two totally different products and should be seen as such.”

Does noir have a function today?
«That of describing society, of analyzing the characters, even negative ones such as murderers, or of wedging ourselves into the world of the victims. Vanina first dealt with organized crime, then the decision to commit herself against common crime, heading the crimes against persons section. A complex job: you have to understand the reason for a murder, even when there doesn’t seem to be an answer, and then the motive. You find yourself looking for cracks in a life, even the victims, sometimes, are not entirely crystal clear. The reasons why one kills can be the most disparate: money, envy, jealousy, there is always something that triggers a homicidal fury. In constructing the plot I always start from the place where the body was found and from the past of the victim: the latter is a discovery which allows me to tell a dramatic period of Sicilian history such as that between the end of the Eighties and the beginning of the Nineties, in which the mafia killed at a terrifying rate. And this fate had befallen Vanina’s father, Inspector Giovanni Guarrasi. I also take this opportunity to focus on the territory in which the stories take place and develop, connecting protagonists and places.”