The Malarazza di Barbàra, between history and invention

Photo of author

By John

The moments that inspire a book sometimes contain something indecipherable or conscious, perhaps stored away in the treasure chest of memory. AND Ugo Barbarajournalist from Palermo (former central editor of Agi), writer (he has six novels to his credit), and playwright, his beautiful novel of fiction and history, “I Malarazza” (Rizzoli), which will be presented today at 6pm at the Mondadori Ciofalo Bookstore in Messinahe “thought” this when in 1994 in New York, as a guest of a family of Italian origins and precisely from Castellammare del Golfo, the author’s place of origin on his mother’s side, he listened to the stories about their immigrant ancestors.

Thus was born the idea of ​​writing «not the story of the poor people who left en masse for America but of those who in the 1860s, after having traveled among the comforts of solid ships, entrepreneurs, exiled patriots, landowners went in America with a vision of the future. The same Italians who made that country great with their work and their initiatives. The family who hosted me was a sort of Forrest Gump of the time, witness to important events, with social relationships of the highest level. I also wanted to free myself from the Italian-criminal axiom, and it is known that many “families” of mafia bosses moved their power network to America from Castellammare. I began my research in New York, among archives and museums, and I learned about incredible stories.”

The novel, which with its intertwining of history and fiction, great history and micro-stories, restores the breath of generations and eras together with social situations and customs, begins in 1860 from Castellammare del Golfo and its territory, to which Barbàra gave literary dignity, but the author, who is planning a trilogy, precedes the narrative with a surprising prologue, with an unnamed character (the name will be known in the epilogue) who from Long Island in 1990 mentions the murder of his mother which occurred at the hands of his father, without giving any other explanations.

«This is the key to the problem – says Barbara – after which I went backwards, reconstructing the whole story backwards». Which is that of a family of landowners, the Montaltos, in a still archaic, landowning Castellammare, where “there was no shortage of murdered people” among the masses oppressed by poverty and wild and mean-spirited people and between pro-Bourbon and anti-Bourbon supporters. When the Garibaldians arrive with winds of change, many fear them due to the worry of losing their lands and distrust towards the “Italians” and the Savoys, but not Antonio Montalto, certain that in an immobile Sicily one cannot continue to wait for the future. So, in exchange for some of his lands he buys a brigantine (this is a true story, among others, says Barbàra) with which he dreams of making the products of his lands travel beyond Sicily.

A multifaceted character, Montalto, a crazy visionary, according to his pragmatic wife Rosaria Battaglia, who decides to move with his entire family to New York, an inexhaustible emporium of things, human beings, business. But even there, among great contradictions, history breaks out with historical figures such as, among others, Lincoln, Cleburne, the Marquis Palma di Cesnola and the heated debates between Unionists and Confederates, between slavers and abolitionists, up to the Civil War. Where ambition leads and who the Malarazzas are will be understood in the rest of the trilogy.