This colossal book has required from its creator a colossal effort expended over almost twenty years. By the same token, anybody desiring to tackle Horcynus Orca will have to be ready to make a colossal investment in terms of both time and readerly exertion. Nothing less will suffice. Whether we want it or not, Horcynus Orca has become part of our civilisation.
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This colossal book has required from its creator a colossal effort expended over almost twenty years. By the same token, anybody desiring to tackle Horcynus Orca will have to be ready to make a colossal investment in terms of both time and readerly exertion. Nothing less will suffice.
Whether we want it or not, Horcynus Orca has become part of our civilisation. Let me start, however, with a brief historical outline. It was written in just a year, from to , in twelve quadrille-ruled notebooks. This version never got published. The novel now was called The Deeds of the Fera I fatti della Fera — the standard Italian word delfino was replaced with its dialect equivalent.
Such a strong reaction was a clear indication of what kind of task the writer was trying to accomplish. He was not writing a fashionably neorealist novel about Sicilian fishermen with a smattering of dialect thrown in for the sake of verisimilitude or to convey the local colour. In order to comprehend this world, the reader was expected to inhabit it and learn its language as he or she trudged along, taking time to take in its wonders.
In The Deeds of the Fera was ready. After several years of continuous postponements, it became obvious that the Sicilian author was transforming the novel into something new and would keep on working until his vision was realised. All in all, the publisher and the readers had to wait for fourteen years until the completion of the definitive version whose title now was Horcynus Orca and whose size had increased twofold. The book had been considered untranslatable until Moshe Kahn triumphantly disproved this belief.
It was the first tremendous step in making Horcynus Orca an international phenomenon, and the hope that there would be more translations of the novel received a new boost. In order to reach his native Sicilian village of Charybdis, he has to find a way of crossing the Strait of Messina from the Calabrian coast seemingly deprived of any type of functional naval transport.
All the ferries have either been sunk by bombardments or impounded and repurposed for the military use by the Anglo-American forces. The shambling ragged men with the implausible names Boccadopa, Portempedocle, Petraliasottana, and Montalbanodelicoperdette believe the protagonist to be their Moses, who will open for them a sea passage. The sailor finds the village of Charybdis in the clutches of famine: as there are practically no boats left, the fishermen cannot ply their trade anymore.
Many have been reduced to eating the flesh of beached dolphins. Then Caitanello brings his son up to date on the recent events in the village, dwelling particularly on what has brought about his recent estrangement from the other fishermen. This synopsis covers more than half of the novel seven hundred pages approximately. Does it mean, that not much happens in a book of such forbidding proportions? Not at all. If we zoom in a bit, our heads will start spinning. The narrative is far from linear, and the main chronology of the story is often interrupted by flashbacks, sudden recollections, dreams, visions and deliria.
The part of the novel summarised above is dominated by the image of the fera. And the common dolphin populating the body of water between Scylla and Charybdis is a veritable beast, a total opposite of its friendly bottlenose relative we are used to admiring in oceanaria and theme parks. Common Dolphin. Image Source. In both cases, the men in charge were dismayed at learning that there is another name for the dolphin, a dialect word which denigrates the romantic image of the beautiful and amicable marine mammal.
The centre versus the periphery. The standard language versus the dialect. The fascist officials from the mainland versus the common fishermen from the island. Leaning on his authority, he naively believes that he can re-educate his Sicilian subordinates and force them to start using the refined delfino instead of the barbaric fera.
Skull of Common Dolphin. The metaphysical dimensions of this animal are explored in dreams or dream-like encounters. These immaculate skeletons, compared to the holy host, no longer belong to the fere.
Even when the image of this sprightly bon-vivant of the Strait of Messina becomes tinged with morbid undertones, there is always an element of defiant hilarity, a touch of Rabelaisian overindulgence about it. For instance, fere most often die as a result of gorging themselves on fish. Death for them is a belated guest at a lavish banquet. After the onset of the famine, on a spontaneous urge, Caitanello goes wandering along the beach and in a thicket of reeds stumbles upon a tableau vivant, or rather, tableau mort.
The fighters of an Anti-Aircraft Defence Militia unit were gunned down from a fighter plane while having a feast at an improvised table, and, after several weeks under the scorching sun, their corpses turned into mummified statues in an allegorical composition. In the very centre of the table, there is the grinning head of a fera , as taunting in death as it was in life, a memento mori in a cap and bells.
The sneering skull surrounded by the desiccated corpses of the fascists, who appear to be worshipping it, serves as a sinister omen to Caitanello and the whole fishing community: you have disdained and disrespected me for too long, but look now, the famine has come, and I am your only hope; I have become the centrepiece of your dinner table, and you will genuflect before my beached carrion or you will die.
While more and more inhabitants of Charybdis resort to eating dolphin flesh to stave off hunger, the fere enjoy themselves, banqueting on the swordfish now inaccessible to the fishermen. Mr Cama is the venerable authority on marine mammals in Charybdis, and his richly illustrated encyclopedia Whales, Porpoises, and Dolphins is the inexhaustible source of theoretical knowledge on the subject for the whole community.
I was surprised to learn that the prototype of this fictional book is not some massive reference work, but an article in The National Geographic. Punch renders the whole scene even more carnivalesque. Marionettes from the Opera dei Pupi. She could have sworn that she was having sex not with the man, but with the vessel itself.
On August 17, the last day of the Allied Invasion of Sicily, the war violently copulates with the sun. The war is personified as a squalid and dishevelled whore, young from behind and old in front, who repeatedly gets pregnant and with lightning rapidity gives birth to deaths, dismemberments, explosions, conflagrations, and other kinds of calamities.
The great assembly of the fere is the highest point of their domination, both in the Strait of Messina and in the narrative. It all changes in a moment when the killer whale arrives. The fera , with all its symbolism, all its adventures, mishaps, and escapades, which have been inextricable from the main story so far, is instantly pushed to the background. The largest killer whale known to us is 9.
The length of the apex predator emerging before the stunned crowd of the villagers is 15 metres. The inhabitants of Charybdis readily engage in a rambling exegetic exercise, trying to pin the meaning on this enormous Rorschach blot, which has stained the calm waters of the strait.
The orca is immortal. It has existed since the beginning of time and will continue terrifying the oceans until the end of the world because this creature is Death itself.
The more familiar skeletal death, called here Nasomangiato The Eaten Nose , is in charge of the land, whereas the fetid spindle-shaped monster whose cuneiform teeth tear apart with the same ease the dolphin, the seal, the shark, and even the great whale, rules supreme in the sea.
The argument for the killer whale as the incarnation of Death is supported by the unbearable stench given off by the huge gangrenous wound on its left flank. The putrefying but immortal beast has come to the strait to poison the waters and spread pestilence across the whole island.
However, the opinions start to tip in favour of the orca when it drives to the surface of the coastal waters myriads of baby eels, which are perceived by the famished villagers as the divine manna. The delighted women and children rush into the water to pick up the hatchlings to fry them immediately, right there on the beach. Do they realise that this generous gift might be just a minor stratagem in the grander design of the false prophet at the end of times?
Another crucial dichotomy in Horcynus Orca that gets stressed all the time is that of pellesquadre vs riatteri. Pellesquadre are the backbone of the community, and their skills, besides being the main source of the general sustenance, are also the subject of immense pride. Riatteri are the resellers who buy fish from the pellesquadre. The riatteri are obviously more practical and cynical than the pellesquadre and less prone to metaphysical contemplation. So, when the former notice the killer whale, all they see is just a mountain of meat to make a profit from.
As if in secret collusion with the fere , they bring about the downfall of the terrible orca. The same ingenuity that helped the fere to ambush the swordfish several days before, guides their diversion and attack tactics against the wounded giant.
The huge black and white hulk of the dying animal is then pushed into a kind of watery tunnel between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas and once there, the tailless carcass begins helplessly sliding back and forth like a loose shuttle. But this miserable turn of events does not mean the defeat of the apocalyptic beast. On the contrary, this is the beginning of its triumph as well as the augury of the end of a whole civilisation.
It is more than that. It is infuriating. It is scandalous. It is insufferable. What happened? So, what happened? I believe that the way the episode is written and the predictable reaction of the reader are all part of the greater design. Sanciolo offers the young man 1, lire, which is a substantial sum that can be used as a down payment for a new palamitara , a fishing boat that could resuscitate the old ways of the war-ravaged fishing community and lead to the renewal of their stalled trade.
This old man is the epitome of the traditional ways. And then it starts. Time grinds to a halt. The end-of-the-world scenario is slowly revealed through hints, innuendo, circumlocution and obsessive, even delirious, introspection.
What they crave is not resurrection but transformation. They want the orca. Seduced by the beast, they are ready to abandon their traditional vocation and embrace the ways of riatteri. They are looking forward to feasting on the meat of the giant carcass.
What will be left could be sold at a good price. Then there is also the blubber and the bones. Those can be turned into profit too. The expiring foul-smelling mass of the orca can be easily towed by the British motor barge to the beach.
The Maltese can arrange that with the captain of the vessel.
Parco Horcynus Orca, Messina
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The book covers four days in and tells the story of a sailor returning home after the collapse of the Italian navy. Here is him reading and talking from the German edition ,I can understand a little of this so found the prose interesting. Then I also found an interview with Andrea Camilleri translator had said in an interview he was translating the book ,which is good given one problems with translating the books would see to be it has a Scillian element too it in the dialect used in the Italian. So not sure which publisher this is for if it is not just a personnel journey by Stepeh Sartarelli himself. Mytwostotinki Mar 27, You are commenting using your WordPress.
He worked on Horcynus Orca from about until it was published in As of , the work has not been translated into English. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.