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The Sicilian Defence by Alejandro Luque
I read a LOT of books every month - but, I confess, I don't read nearly as much in the short story genre. Perhaps this is because I prefer literary works, or because so many authors don't really know how to fine-tune the short story format.
Nonetheless, I was very pleasantly surprised by The Sicilian Defence, and want to recommend it to fellow readers looking for an international flavor and a literary read.
One would think that a short story collection set in Sicily would arrive steeped in a culture and flavor of place: not so with The Sicilian Defence - but that's not to say this is a black mark on the collection. Alejandro Luque himself admits that the stories aren't as much about culture and daily life (they could have been set in any country and any place) but primarily revolve around themes of life, death, and moral and political choices. Given this purpose, Sicily serves only as the backdrop, reflecting the island's literary history more than its everyday life. And with this approach in mind, readers seeking real literature over light, everyday observational pieces will find The Sicilian Defence no casual read, but a magnificently crafted series of vignettes exposing the underbelly of choice and its consequences.
As readers follow each (very different) tale, they begin to get a sense of Sicilian psychology, rules of engagement over issues of sacrifice, meaning, and love, and, ultimately, the finer art of lying, loving, and living.
And herein lies the heart of The Sicilian Defence: its ability to capture exquisite bits of everyday life and times, to inject each short story with blossoming hearts and minds, and to ultimately create a sense of Sicilian psychology within the confines of stories that, yes, could have been set 'anywhere', but that ultimately capture the essence of the Italian mind-set.
And perhaps this is The Sicilian Defence's greatest achievement of all - and why this short story collection is especially recommended for readers of fine literature over those seeking light, casual stories.