I am open to attending book club meetings in person or by Skype. If you are interested, please contact me at CaterinaEdwards@gmail.com. To help your book club get started in discussing The Sicilian Wife, please see the book club questions below (click here to download them as a Microsoft Word file).
Fulvia Arcuri, daughter of a powerful Sicilian Mafioso, dreams of escaping the tight grip of her corrupt, patriarchal family and of creating a personal world free of the taint of her family, a world in which she, as independent woman, wife, and mother, controls her own fate. She seems to achieve this dream by marrying a Venetian, Samuele Mazzolin, and moving to Canada. But after a number of years in Edmonton, Samuele is not successful in his work. He wants to return to Venice to recreate his life there. Even though Fulvia, now the proud owner of a successful dress shop, is diagnosed with breast cancer, Samuele decides to leave his wife and two young daughters to look for work in Italy. Fulvia feels abandoned. And she becomes bitter and angry when she later learns that during Samuele’s visit to Fulvia’s hometown in Sicily, he and a male companion have died in a violent car crash.
Evidence at the scene of Samuele’s death reveals that the crash was not an accident: someone had forced his car off the road and had then torched the car and its two occupants. The investigation for this homicide is undertaken by Commissario (Police Superintendant) Marisa De Luca, who as a woman and a northern Italian, is out of her element in male-dominated Sicily. To solve the case she must overcome not only the menacing hostility of Fulvia’s Mafia family but also the prejudices and corruption of her own police colleagues. And she must also travel to Canada to investigate Fulvia herself. But even at the end of the novel, after De Luca’s superiors have officially closed the case with a seemingly-plausible solution, the question remains in her mind: was Fulvia Arcuri involved in the death of her husband?
1. Did you find The Sicilian Wife a compelling read? Did it keep you wanting to read more? What were the elements that either grabbed your
interest or that slowed you down in your reading?
2. Did you identify with any of the characters and their situations?
3. Caterina Edwards has said that she has been influenced by European writers such as Leonardo Sciascia, writers who have written serious literary works that make use of the conventions of popular genres such as detective stories and Mediterranean noir. These conventions include the who-done-it plot, hardboiled character types, and cynical depictions of social and political corruption against the backdrop of Mediterranean beauty. How are these elements used in The Sicilian Wife? Do you think that Edwards is successful in creating a literary novel that is more complex and profound than the standard detective or noir novel?
4. The Sicilian Wife is not structured chronologically. The narrative shifts in time and place, and therefore also in its focus on different
characters. For example:
By tracing chronological shifts such as these, discuss how they are used. Do you find them disruptive? Do they challenge the reader in particular ways? Are they useful ways of introducing new themes or issues or new plot lines and characters?
5. The title The Sicilian Wife suggests that Fulvia is the protagonist. But would it be fair to say that Marisa De Luca is equally important? Do
these two characters complement each other?
6. As a follow-up to the preceding question, compare/contrast Fulvia and Marisa in terms of the following issues:
(a) Their quests: Marisa De Luca’s unraveling of the mystery of Samuele’s murder and Fulvia Arcuri’s attempts to cleanse herself of her underworld heritage and provide a nobler future for her daughters. Do you think these characters are successful in their respective quests?
(b) The relationships with men: There are many relationships that can be discussed. In addition to the major ones (Marisa’s with her police colleagues, with Don Antonio Arcuri, and with John Bonaiuto; Fulvia’s with her father and with Samuele), both women have a relationship with Alex. Is this significant? Is it too much of a coincidence?
7. The Sicilian Wife contains numerous references to and quotations from classical sources and folktales. What is the function of this material?
8. Consider the main symbols of the The Sicilian Wife, in particular the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. What is the significance of
these symbols in the novel?
9. Are you satisfied with the ending of the The Sicilian Wife?
10. Did you learn anything about Italian culture from reading The Sicilian Wife? For example, did you know the details of the Aldo Moro kidnapping and killing and the possible link with the Mafia? How does knowledge of these matters help you to appreciate The Sicilian Wife?
For background reading on the Mafia, you may be interested in Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily (1996). For insights into Neapolitan organized crime (the Camorra), see Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah (2006).