Andrea Camilleri: Much more than Montalbano

I would like to pay my respects by repeating what author Simonetta Agnello Hornby said, “He should have been put forward for the Nobel Prize”

Andrea Camilleri (right) and actor Luca Zingaretti who played the part of Inspector Montalbano
Andrea Camilleri (right) and actor Luca Zingaretti who played the part of Inspector Montalbano

Earlier this week, the renowned Sicilian author, Andrea Camilleri passed away at the venerable age of 93. He was world famous for his 23 novels, starring the Sicilian detective Inspector Montalbano; he was a literary and media legend in his home country and an inspiration to more than one generation of writers and readers around the world. He was also well-known for his hatred of fascism, corruption and the mafia. He was a great humanist. Three years ago, when he lost his eyesight he said: “I can now see things in a better light. I feel eternity much closer”.

Andrea Camilleri, beloved creator of Inspector Montalbano, sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The Montalbano series has been translated into 32 languages. The Italian television series which has been shown in 65 countries has generated renewed tourist interest in Sicily. The town on which “Vigata” is based, Camilleri’s home town of Porto Empedocle, is so proud of its connection that it officially changed its name to Porto Empedocle Vigata in 2003. On the publication of his final novel in the series, Andrea Camilleri said “Sherlock Holmes was recovered… but it will not be possible to recover Montalbano. In that last book, he’s really finished”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Camilleri said he had been determined to keep mafia bosses in secondary roles. “Not because I fear them,” he said. “But I believe that writing about mafiosi often makes heroes out of them. I’m thinking of The Godfather, where Marlon Brando’s superb performance distracts us from the realisation that he also commissioned murders. And this is a gift that I have no intention of offering to the mafia.”

Tributes from literary world have been followed up by those from the political field. Sergio Mattarella, the Italian President, said the death of Camilleri “leaves a vacuum in Italian culture and inside those who loved reading his stories”, while premier Giuseppe Conte described Camilleri as “a master of irony and wisdom”. “With boundless creativity, he told the story of his Sicily and his rich fantasy world,” Conte added. “We lose a writer, an intellectual, who was able to speak to everyone.”

Andrea Camilleri never shied away from comments and criticism of the establishment and always defended his ideals. He recently stated that “50 years ago, in the northern Italian town of Turin, there were those who were promoting a policy of not employing any Italians from the South (Sicily). He said that if these people were being racist with their own fellow nationals, imagine how racist they would be with the Iranians and Africans fleeing their war-torn countries and seeking employment”.

In an episode of Inspector Montalbano that aired recently, the detective delivered a pro-migrant message, angering supporters of the establishment. Montalbano jumps into the sea to recover the body of a migrant who drowned attempting to reach the shore. In another scene, he shouts to his colleagues: “Enough with the tale of Isis terrorists travelling on migrant boats.” The episode reached an audience of 11 million viewers and caused a heated controversy.

Andrea Camilleri expressed concern on the Italy that younger generation of Italians will inherit. However, his faith in the human nature never faltered – “The worst times bring out the best qualities in man” and he encourages youths to persevere and nurture their political beliefs to help build a new Italy. He told the young: “Do not abandon politics, renew politics to make our country better. Do not heed our advice as elders. We are already dead.”

Camilleri, who was born in Sicily in 1925, moved to Rome in his later life and was hospitalised in Rome shortly before his death. I would like to pay my respects by repeating what author Simonetta Agnello Hornby said, “He should have been put forward for the Nobel Prize.”

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