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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

INVENTING HISTORY Leonardo Sciascia, The Council of Egypt, translated by Adrienne Foulke (Carcanet) £10.95

The book begins quite brilliantly. We are in the late 18th century: Don Giuseppe Vella, a penniless monk, is interpreting for a visiting Arab ambassador and local Sicilian bishop. The matter in question: an ancient Arabic text in the archives of a Sicilian monastery: is it or is it not a history of Sicily under Arab domination? 'It is not,' pronounces the ambassador. 'It is,' interprets the wily monk, and gets himself the job of translator. The following years he will spend corrupting the text beyond recognition, inventing a period of history out of nothing and enjoying the affluence which comes from being a protégé of the bishop. But wealth is not enough, Vella wishes to be respected and feared too; discovering that the invention of history puts him in a position of power, he now produces an entirely fictitious Arabic work on Sicilian history and law, The Council of Egypt, and sets about terrorizing the local barons with his 'translation'. The pampered, arrogant Sicilian nobles are in turmoil because the Viceroy of the King in Naples is introducing a series of reforms designed to reduce their power. Sensing that the upper hand is with the king and the gift of an abbacy on the cards, Vella 'discovers' in his Arabic texts that all Sicilian lands originally belonged to the king and to him alone. Immediately he becomes the object of respect and a large number of bribes, fobbing off the barons in return with such irrelevant but much ...


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