And you know what? The Sicily portrayed in The Leopard isn't so different. Replace "the mob" with "Italian history" and you've got a good encapsulation of The Leopard: landscapes, death, and political upheaval.
And you know political upheaval makes for consistently awesome storytelling. Just check out the roster of TV's greatest hits. Game of Thrones might be called Weird Sex In Westeros if there wasn't a whole lot of politicking and power shifts going on. House of Cards might be called The Story of Frank Underwood: A Nice Guy Who Occasionally Eat Ribs.
The Leopard is all about how the history turns life upside down for one Sicilian aristocrat even as it changed the future of Italy. And it's no wonder The Leopard is so personal: it's actually about how Sicilian history impacted its author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
Like the book's main character, Prince Fabrizio, Lampedusa was the last of the line of an old royal family from the now-defunct Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Like Fabrizio, Lampedusa's family lost its status in Italian society when Italy first became a unified country during the Italian "Risorgimento" in 1860. The Risorgimento, or "The Resurgence," was the decades-long process that turned Italy from a bunch of tiny city-states into the unified boot that we know and love today. During this process, old royal families from the southern part of Italy lost their status and got tossed out of power.
But The Leopard, published in 1958 nearly a hundred years after the Risorgimento, isn't a fusty political tome that just lists dates and the names of generals. In fact, politics stays on the back burner during the majority of this totally politics-driven novel. The Leopard focuses on what is happening to Fabrizio's family (not that kind of family—there are some differences between The Leopard and The Godfather) and how Fabrizio deals with the fact that he's gonna die. And die he does: just like the state of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Hey, at least he doesn't die making an orange peel into a weird set of teeth.
Like the classic kid's book says, everybody dies.
But the protagonist of The Leopard, Prince Fabrizio, is having a hard time realizing that everybody has to kick the bucket, croak, buy the farm, bite the big one, and cash in their chips.
To be fair, it's not Prince Fabrizio's year. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where he's a dang prince, is going the way of the white elephant and making way for a unified Kingdom of Italy. That means that middle-aged Fabrizio is extra depressed: he's halfway to death, and his title of Prince is already six feet under.
So what does he do about it? Um, not a lot. He tries to drown his sorrows in tons o' sensual pleasure (mistresses! macking on his niece-to-be! parties!) but he also spends a bunch of time staring at the stars and wishing he was young again.
Oh, don't get us wrong. This is not a plotless book about a sad dude eating pints of ice cream and listening to mournful music. The Leopard is a novel about the transformation of Italy, and a huge, crazy revolution. There are scheming priests, hot ladies and dashing soldiers. There are parties and funerals and stuffed dogs.
But your main course of history and intrigue comes with a generous side dish of sorrow. There's a super-handy German word for this: Weltshmerz. This translates to the sorrow felt when you compare the ideal state of the world to the way it really is. Prince Fabrizio is Weltshmetzing it up big time: he's bummed about the fact that his moment in Italian history is solidly over.
Lampedusa's novel offers us a time capsule. History books can tell us what happened in the past, but historical novels can actually help us feel what the past was like. So, unlike poor Fabrizio, we can live vicariously in the past.
But reading The Leopard is going to make you not want to live in the past. This novel is about the looming, scary inevitability of death and the callous progression of history. The Leopard isn't going to make you want to sink back into your couch and refresh your newsfeed. It's going to make you want to jump up and seize the dang day… because soon enough you'll be deader than a doornail.
And we think that maybe—just maybe—that's what Lampedusa (who died before this book was published) wanted us to feel as we read The Leopard.
Giuseppe di Lampedusa at Encyclopedia Britannica
You're not going to find a ton of websites on this guy, since The Leopard was the only book he ever published. But fear not, Encyclopedia Britannica has got you covered.
Lampedusa in Best of Sicily Magazine
Learn about Lampedusa from the people who know him best—the Sicilians.
The Leopard (1963 Film)
Starring Burt Lancaster, Luchino Visconti's film version of the book is a classic of 20th century cinema.
"A Place in the Sun"
This awesome article explores the ways in which Lampedusa's book has become a crucial part of Sicilian history and culture.
"The Leopard Turns 50"
Written in 2008, this article takes a look back on half a century of The Leopard and explores how the book's portrayal of Sicilian history still has an impact on readers today.
David Mitchell Celebrates T.L.
Author David Mitchell makes an impressive pitch for why everyone should put reading The Leopard on their bucket list.
The Leopard 1963 Trailer
Here's the original trailer for the famous 1963 film version of The Leopard.
One YouTube viewer decided to cut a mash-up of footage from The Leopard and set it to Italian music.
Audio Clip from The Leopard
This guy is a really great reader, so if you're looking for an audiobook version of T.L., track this one down.
There aren't many images of Giuseppe di Lampedusa as a younger man, but here's one of them.
Just try to ignore the Hitler moustache. Lampedusa was an okay guy.
Getting His Think On
Here's one of the better pictures for giving us insight into Lampedusa's brooding personality.