The Mafia in Italian Lives and Literature: Life Sentences and Their Geographies by Robin Pickering-Iazzi (review)
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Reviewed by
Robin Pickering-Iazzi. The Mafia in Italian Lives and Literature: Life Sentences and Their Geographies. University of Toronto Press. x, 278. $34.95.

In this highly comprehensive study, unique in its kind, Robin Pickering-Iazzi analyses physical and imaginary urban geographies ("cityworlds") in recent mafia and anti-mafia documents and texts. "Where omertà serves as the dominating mafia law of place, narratives perform a twofold act of resistance," the author explains, and in her work she focuses not only on traditional narrative works (films, fictional writing, testimonials) but also on less traditional texts such as online postings, diary entries, and contributions to anti-mafia social networks. Special consideration is afforded to the voices of women and youths – until now often relegated to the sidelines of any discourse on the (anti)mafia.

As Pickering-Iazzi states in the introduction to the book, the "life sentences" referenced by the title "posit possibilities for the creation of life-fostering geographies of justice, constituted by sociospatial practices if a culture of legality," but they also bear another meaning in that they refer to "the interrelations between individuals' life stories, history, and literature." The first section of the book is dedicated to women's fashioning of a mafia identity (the female counterpart to the Mafioso), especially as described by Gabriella Badalamenti in her imaginary biography Come l'oleandro, in which Badalamenti attributes the deadly yet alluring qualities of the oleander to multiple spatial geographies.

The second chapter of the book focuses on Amelia Crisantino's novel Cercando Palermo. Pickering-Iazzi here analyses the imaginary world of Palermo and looks at the semiotic link Sicily's capital and the Mafia have been sharing. This link has become increasingly complicated since the 1980s – years in which Palermo also became known for its places of anti-mafia activity. Chapter three looks at urban spaces beyond the boundaries of Palermo, such as Bagheria, Gela, Catania, and Agrigento. Exemplary in this section is Maria Rosa Cutrufelli's Canto al deserto: Storia di Tina, soldata di mafia, a narrative inspired by the true-life "Bonnie of Gela" – a sixteen-year-old girl purported to be the leader of a band of [End Page 302] (male) underage criminals at the services of local Mafia boss Giuseppe Madonia. Pickering-Iazzi discusses Cutrufelli's and several other works in light of the different forms postmodern impegno can take.

Entitled "Mafia Geographies of Voicelessness," the very interesting and dense fourth section of the book takes into account "the contradiction between giving vocal presence to life stories while at the same time marking the absence of the very voices transmitting the unique identities of the human beings who inspire the stories. The final chapter, "Engendering Testimonial Geographies of Legality," scrutinizes the media's handling of testimonials (especially in the case of Rita Atria) and calls for more archival research into anti-mafia testimonies in order to enable a fuller understanding of not only modalities of testimony but also of criminal organizations' dynamics as well as anti-mafia cyberspatialities.

Pickering-Iazzi's exceptionally varied and dense tome goes beyond the usual discourse on space and gender, suggesting pathways for fresh and innovative understandings and interpretations of criminality in general and many different types of (anti)mafia texts in particular.

Elgin K. Eckert
Department of Italian Studies, The Umbra Institute, Perugia, Italy
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