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13 September 2023

Leonardo Sciascia in the World: Visual Translations

A chapter that needs to be written, in the context of the relationship between Leonardo Sciascia and the universe of translation, concerns the cover illustrations of his books in foreign languages. For the Sicilian writer, who since 1961 has been polemicizing with Carlo Bo, Oreste Macrì and Giorgio Caproni over their versions of Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, all intent on unmasking “the tralignities and gratuitous obscurities”, restoring an author’s pronunciation in a different idiom means venturing into a daring undertaking, bordering on imposture. What would he think, then, of the translations of his books, and of the iconographic choices that end up conveying, inevitably, a subjective idea of his work? Without any pretense of being exhaustive, and referring for a more in-depth critical examination to the extensive studies on the author’s reception abroad (I will limit myself to pointing out, edited by Amici di Sciascia, the series “Sciascia scrittore europeo” and the magazine Todomodo, both published by Olschki), we have reviewed fifty translation covers, among those preserved at the Leonardo Sciascia Foundation in Racalmuto (whose catalogue, edited by Linda Graci, is now available on the site), arranging them in chronological order, but also giving an account of the wide geographical spread of his books, from West to East, from Europe to Asia to the Americas.

Take one of his most translated novels, Il giorno della civetta. From the refined and arabesque Sicilianity of the French cover (Flammarion, 1962), we move on to the ironically abstract recreation of the Czechoslovak cover (Československý spisovatel, 1964), whose illustration is only a taste of the icastic images that enrich the volume, edited by Božena Bruderhansová. If the novel’s famous incipit is here summed up in a lunar bus and its grotesque passengers, the investigative vein that runs through it is instead conveyed, in the Hungarian version of 1963 (Európa Könyvkiadó), by a metaphorical fingerprint and is referred to, in the Bulgarian version of 1965, by a stylised scene from a detective film (Hapoдha Kyлtypa, 1965). The Swedish cover of the book, whose subtitle circumscribes its theme (Tidens Förlag, 1965), almost seems to prefigure the Einaudian illustration of Il contesto – taken from a drawing by Jean-Louis Forain – with that judge looming over the characters caught in the mafia trap. Instead, the cover of the Dutch version of Il giorno della civetta (Werelbibliotek N. V., 1968) – the work by Guttuso that stands out in the 1964 Einaudi edition – echoes the original image, but in an inversion of the black-and-white colour contrast in function of the symbol par excellence of mourning. On the subtitle, which echoes the first American translation of the novel – a veritable betrayal of its meaning (Mafia vendetta, Cape, 1963) – Sciascia’s words would suffice: “I can tolerate the title Mafia, but Vendetta mafia, no”. An explicit allusion to Damiano Damiani’s film version is instead the Portuguese cover of the novel (Publiçaões Europa-América, 1968), under the banner of Claudia Cardinale’s algid beauty, in contrast to the ‘shame’ recalled in the title. And alluding to the film adaptation of Il giorno della civetta, with Franco Nero in the parts of Captain Bellodi, is also the illustration that stands out in the Spanish version (Plaza & Janés, 1968). We descend headlong into “the years of lead” with the Turkish cover of the novel (Babil Yayinevi, 1972) that makes the protagonist almost a forerunner of James Bond, while a ‘western of our own’ atmosphere in Latin sauce is breathed in the cover illustration of the Cuban version (Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1977). The spectre of terrorism having vanished, the Swiss translation of Il giorno della civetta (Benziger Verlag, 1985) – with a title that in Italian sounds like ‘The Law of Silence’ – instead plays on the easily labelled identity brand, portraying an anthropologically Mediterranean landscape against which a mafioso character with an artfully censored face stands out. The cover of the Israeli version (Hakibut Ha-Moa’ahad – Sefriat Poalim, 1985) is far from stereotypical and highly evocative: it features a Picasso painting from 1939 depicting – at the time of the Spanish Civil War – a cat with sharp teeth and threatening claws tearing at a defenceless bird, caught in a vain effort to fly. A predatory and gratuitous act that goes well with the ferinity of Sciasci’s characters. Expressly Mediterranean, like certain photographs by Ferdinando Scianna, is then the cover of the novel in the Catalan language version (Empúries, 1989). Quite different, however, is the peritestual choice of the Basque translation (Ibaizabal, 1991): a harnessed horse rearing up, à la Paolo Uccello, perhaps suggesting a heroically engagé reading of the book. But the most evocative illustration of all, by the Chinese artist Yang Su, coincides with the iconographic rendering of the epigraph: with the last lights extinguished, in the rising sun “the owl appears by day”, against a background of steel cusps emblematic of the vertigo of power (Yilin chubanshe, 2004).

The covers of other Sciascian texts also deserve a mention, oscillating between stereotyping the identity brand and creative reinterpretation of the original. The cover illustration of the German edition of A ciascuno il suo (Walter Verlag, 1968) suggests an atmosphere of manhunting in a remote village in the island’s hinterland, while the cover of the English translation of the novel Il contesto (Jonathan Cape, 1974) stands out for its inventive capacity. The proposed title – ‘equal danger’ – already suggests the interpretation: there is no escape, danger is everywhere, good and evil exchange sides, the inquisitor is mirrored in the inquirer. A hitman holds a perfectly balanced set of scales with one hand, while with the other, the devil’s left hand, he brandishes the murder weapon, against the backdrop of a distressing ‘dechirican’ perspective created by Rom Bowen’s imagination. Also highly evocative is the cover of the Japanese edition of Il contesto (Shinchôsha, 1976), renamed ‘Morning of Power’ to suggest, according to translator Chigusa Ken, the ‘astonishment before the tenacity of a Power that even in its twilight knows not the slightest relenting’. This sense of precariousness is echoed in Tadayoshi’s dazzling engraving – from the folder ‘Ode to the Great Decomposition’ – depicting a snow-white lepidopteron silhouetted unrealistically against the bituminous black of the background. Also interesting is the cover of Todo modo in the Polish edition, hosted in the ‘Nike’ series by the Varsavian Czytelnik (1977). The stylisation of the Nike of Samothrace, present in all issues of the series, acquires an obvious ideological significance: despite its fragmentary nature as a headless and armless simulacrum, the statue is in fact a perfect allegory of Polish nationalistic sentiment, under the banner of a winged yet mutilated victory. And speaking of allegories, the somewhat kitschy illustration of Candido in the ’79 US version (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) is striking. Standing out on the cover is a mythical winged character, wrapped in an Italian flag, who flies over the earth, consigning himself to the eternal sphere of the dream, of utopia. A condition prerogative of those who, like the Sicilian writer, have made freedom from all diktats their creed. Equally iconic, but this time in the disquieting reference to the ‘living dead’ of Palermo’s Capuchin crypt, is the cover of the Croatian edition of Il contesto and A ciascuno il suo (GZH, 1981), where a lit candle shines in future memory of the dearly departed, or perhaps as an emblem of the never-fading light of reason. Singular, in the German edition of Il mare colore del vino (Wagenbach, 1997), is the image of a vegetal and burlesque “trinacria”, like certain circus acrobats or the rattles-hatted madmen of the tarot cards. A metaphor, perhaps, for a meaningless universe outside the sphere of the knowable. Thailand offers its elegant contribution with the cover of Sciascia’s latest work, Una storia semplice (อ่านอิตาลี, 2017): from the ingenious coupling of lettering and graphic elaboration (think of the blood stain on which the title stands out), to the enigmatic chessboard enclosing the miniature of a book – all seasoned with subtle postmodern irony – the Indo-Chinese version of the novel shows all the vitality of Oriental publishing. We like to conclude in the sign of the Enlightenment or, rather, of an 18th century imbued with Mediterranean sunshine. This is the case of the Brazilian cover of Candido (Berlendis & Vertecchia Editores, 2019), entrusted to the simplicity of the yellow-blue colour contrast. An evolution towards greater sobriety, compared to the early and sometimes folkloric covers, a sign of a more acute interpretation abroad of Sciasci’s work. Sobriety, therefore, which rhymes with Classicism.


We thank Vito Catalano and Edith Cutaia for their collaboration.

Lavinia Spalanca, University of Palermo


The exhibition “Leonardo Sciascia in the World: Visual Translations” was realised thanks to the support of the “Amici di Leonardo Sciascia” Association and the National Committee for the Celebrations of the Centenary of Leonardo Sciascia


Title: Le jour de la chouette (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1962

Publisher Paris, Flammarion, tr. into French by Juliette Bertrand

Title: Mint a bagoly nappal (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1963

Publisher Budapest, Európa Könyvkiadó, tr. into Hungarian by Sándor Székely

Title: Mafija (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1964

Publisher Zagreb, Mladost, tr. into Croatian by Daša Bradičić

Title: Den sovy (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1964

Publisher Praha, Československý spisovatel, tr. into Czech-Slovakian by Adolf Felix

Title: Денят на ryryʍявrата (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1965

Publisher Sofia, Hapoдha Kyлtypa, tr. into Bulgarian by Bиoлeta Дackaлoba

Title: Ugglor i solsken. En roman om Maffian (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1965

Publisher Stockholm, Tidens Förlag, tr. into Swedish by Karin Alin

Title: Tote auf Bestellung. Roman (A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1968

Publisher Olten/Freiburg i. Br., WalterVerlag, tr. into German by Arianna Giachi

Title: De doodmakers. Mafia vendetta (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1968

Publisher Amsterdam, Werelbibliotek N. V., tr. into Dutch by J. A. Verhaart-Bodderij

Title: O dia da vergonha (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1968

Publisher Lisboa, Publiçaões Europa-América, tr. into Portoguese by Carmen Gonzales

Title: Každému, co ieho jest (A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1968

Publisher tr. into Czech-Slovakian by Jitka Minaríková

Title: Dueto siciliano. El dia de la lechuza. A cada uno lo suyo ((Il giorno della civetta / A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1968

Publisher Barcelona, Plaza & Janés, tr. into Spanish by Domingo Pruna

Title: Fiecăruia ce i se cuvine (A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1970

Publisher Bucarest, Editura Univers, tr. into Romanian by Adriana Lăzărescu

Title: Baykuş (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1972

Publisher Ankara, Babil Yayinevi, tr. into Turkish by Necdet Adabaǧ

Title: Equal Danger (Il contesto)

Year: 1973

Publisher New York, Harper & Row, tr. into English by Adrienne Foulke

Title: Equal Danger (Il contesto)

Year: 1974

Publisher London, Jonathan Cape, tr. into English by Adrienne Foulke

Title: Tote Richter reden nicht (Il contesto)

Year: 1974

Publisher Zürich-Köln, Benziger Verlag, tr. into German by Helene Moser

Title: Med alle midler. Roman (Todo modo)

Year: 1976

Publisher Copenhagen, Gyldendal, tr. into Danish by Uffe Harder

Title: 権力の朝 (Il contesto)

Year: 1976

Publisher Tōkyō, Shinchôsha, tr. into Japanese by Chigusa Ken

Title: El contexto (Il contesto)

Year: 1976

Publisher Barcelona, Noguer, tr. into Spanish by Jordi Marfà

Title: El día de la lechuza (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1977

Publisher La Habana, Editorial Arte y Literatura, tr. into Spanish by Giannina Bertarelli

Title: Todo modo (Todo modo)

Year: 1977

Publisher Warszawa, Czytelnik, tr. into Polish by Zofia Ernstowa

Title: Igati (Todo modo)

Year: 1979

Publisher Tallinn, «Loomingu» Raamatukogu, tr. into Estonian by Aleksander Kurtna

Title: Candido or a Dream dreamed in Sicily (Candido, ovvero un sogno fatto in Sicilia)

Year: 1979

Publisher New York-London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, tr. into English by Adrienne Foulke

Title: O dia da coruja (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1981

Publisher Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo, Editora Fontana Ltda, tr. into Portoguese by Solange Lima Caribé da Rocha

Title: Izuzetni leševi & Svakom svoje (Il contesto / A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1981

Publisher Zagreb, GZH, tr. into Croatian by Tonko Maroević

Title: Noir sur noir. Journal de dix années (Nero su nero)

Year: 1981

Publisher Paris, Maurice Nadeau, tr. into French by Nino Frank and Corinne Lucas

Title: The day of the owl / Equal danger (Il giorno della civetta / Il contesto)

Year: 1984

Publisher Manchester, Carcanet Press, tr. into English by Archibald Colquhoun and Arthur Oliver

Title: Das Gesetz des Schweigens. Sizilianishe Romane (Il giorno della civetta / Il contesto))

Year: 1985

Publisher Zürich-Köln, Benziger Verlag, tr. into German by Arianna Giachi and Helene Moser

Title: Del Tag der Eule. Roman (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1987

Publisher München, DTV, tr. into German by Arianna Giachi

Title: יומה של הלילית (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1988

Publisher Tel Aviv Bnei Brak, Hakibut Ha-Moa’ahad – Sefriat Poalim, tr. into Hebrew by Bari A’amoneail and Miron Rapoport

Title: A bruxa e o capitão (La strega e il capitano)

Year: 1989

Publisher Rio de Janeiro, Rocco, tr. into Portoguese by Mario Fondelli

Title: One Way or Another (Todo modo)

Year: 1989

Publisher London, Paladin Grafton Books, tr. into English by Sacha Rabinovitch

Title: El dìa de l'òliba (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1989

Publisher Barcelona, Empúries, tr. into Catalan by Xavier Lloveras

Title: Këscilli i Egjiptit / Secilit hakun (Il Consiglio d'Egitto / A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 1990

Publisher Tiranë, Shtepia Botuese, tr. into Albanian by Shpëtim Cuçka

Title: Crucigrama (Cruciverba)

Year: 1990

Publisher Ciudad de México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, tr. into Spanish by Stella Santangelo

Title: Hontzaren eguna (Il giorno della civetta)

Year: 1991

Publisher Euba, Ibaizabal, tr. into Basque by Koldo Biguri

Title: Les Oncles de Sicile (Gli zii di Sicilia)

Year: 1993

Publisher Paris, Gallimard, tr. into French by Mario Fusco

Title: Das weinfarbene Meer (Il mare colore del vino)

Year: 1997

Publisher Berlin, Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, tr. into German by Sigried Vagt

Title: 白天的猫头鹰 / 各得其所 (Il giorno della civetta / A ciascuno il suo)

Year: 2004

Publisher Nanjing, Yilin chubanshe, tr. into Chinese by Yuan Huaqing and Lü Tongliu

Title: Afera Moro (L'affaire Moro)

Year: 2006

Publisher Ljubljana, Prešernova Družba, tr. into Slovenian by Matej Leskovat

Title: Der Zusammenhang. Ein sizilianischer Kriminalroman (Il contesto)

Year: 2010

Publisher Berlin, Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, tr. into German by Helene Moser

Title: A Simple Story (Una storia semplice / Candido)

Year: 2010

Publisher London, Hesperus Press Ltd, tr. into English by Howard Curtis

Title: La corde folle. Écrivains et choses de Sicile (La corda pazza. Scrittori e cose di Sicilia)

Year: 2013

Publisher Paris, Denoël et D’Ailleurs, tr. into French by Jacques de Pressac

Title: روز جغد / یک داستان ساده (Il giorno della civetta / Una storia semplice)

Year: 2017

Publisher Teheran, Ketab e Khorshid, tr. into Persian by Reza Qeisarie and Azam Rassouli

Title: เรื่อง ง่ายๆ (Una storia semplice)

Year: 2017

Publisher Bangkok, อ่านอิตาลี, tr. into Thailandese by Nuntawan Chanprasert

Title: L'Affaire Moro (L'Affaire Moro)

Year: 2018

Publisher Paris, Grasset, tr. into French by Jean-Noël Schifano

Title: Candido, ou uma história sonhada na Sicilia (Candido ovvero Un sogno fatto in Sicilia)

Year: 2019

Publisher São Paulo, Berlendis & Vertecchia Editores, tr. into Portoguese by Maria Gloria Cusumano Mazzi

Title: Stendhal for ever. Écrits 1970-1989 (L'adorabile Stendhal) 9

Year: 2020

Publisher Paris, Cahiers de l’Hôtel de Galliffet, tr. into French by Carole Cavallera

Title: Todo modo (Todo modo)

Year: 2021

Publisher Barcelona, Tusquets Editores, tr. into Spanish by Joaquín Jordá

Title: Rada egipska (Il Consiglio d'Egitto)

Year: 2021

Publisher Warszawa, Próby, tr. into Polish by Halina Kralowa