Blood Washes Blood

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9780099410621: Blood Washes Blood

Against the sweeping backdrop of western Sicily, in a riveting seven-year quest, Frank Viviano pieces together his own harrowing ancestral history of betrayal and redemption. His take is haunted, from its violent opening to its stunning climax, by an ancient Sicilian proverb, Lu sangu lava lu sangu, "Blood washes blood": the torrent of unforgiving vengeance that flows from an unforgivable offense.
Viviano's great-great grandfather was a legendary bandit who traveled the countryside of Sicily by night in the robes of a friar and was known as "the Monk." His brutal murder has remained shrouded in mystery for four generations. Until now.
Populated by an extraordinary cast of nineteenth-century Robin Hood brigands and twentieth-century underworld bosses, here is a true-life Godfather, in which past and present finally merge into a single story with a shattering climax that ultimately changes the way the author views his immigrant family's complex legacy -- and himself.

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Review:

In 1995, two years after his grandfather whispered the name of his great-great-grandfather's killer to him, Frank Viviano visited Sicily to learn the events that shaped his namesake's life and strongly influenced his own. Nicknamed "The Monk" for the garments he wore while robbing the rich and bureaucratic, Viviano's ancestor left little for the experienced foreign correspondent to follow. Plus, the slow-jolt journey of Sicilian lifestyles often ended in polite reticence or remarkable disorganization; even rudimentary information, such as his predecessor's gravesite, was lost. In a "morbid tidying up," Mussolini's local officials removed the remains of all pre-Fascists: "In their zeal to launch the new millennium, the fascisti hadn't bothered to keep lists of the disinterred. The old tombstones were dumped into the sea, next to the limestone blocks that the fishermen referred to as 'Atlantis.'"

In between assignments in Bosnia and the West Bank, Viviano learned to take a less direct approach. Guided by stories told to him in his childhood by his grandmother, he demystifies the region's bandit-rebel history, its current life under the sistema, and its creation of the modern Italian mafia. Viviano was already aware of his family's supposed connections to the mafia, causing him to look more carefully at the times that produced these men. In the process, he began to take a closer look at his own personal life:

The dramatic narrative of ancestry is not erased by immigration. It is driven into a clandestine realm where setting and characters are only dimly recalled, or transformed into fairy-tale heroes and villains in the landscape of fable. The Monk, in this sense, had withdrawn into my grandparents' tales and the isolated recesses of my imagination, into hidden canyons where I could not directly confront him.

Suspenseful and well balanced, Blood Washes Blood is an exciting and thoughtful page-turner, a remarkable story of family, mystery, and friendship. Viviano's writing is at its best when he follows the complicated trail of his family's past, and falters only slightly when he attempts to imagine his ancestor's life. --Karin Rosman

About the Author:

Frank Viviano, at-large foreign correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, has covered events ranging from the fall of Marcos in the Philippines and the Tiananmen Square crackdown to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Bosnian civil war. A two-time recipient of the World Affairs Council's Thomas Storke Award for Achievements in International Reporting, he is the author of six other books.

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