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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 31, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE SIREN & SELECTED WRITINGS by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Harvill: $24; 192 pp.) If you haven't already done so, read Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's classic, "The Leopard." For dessert, read this collection of memoir fragments, stories and critical writings. Lampedusa, who in all his writing brings the fierce beauty of his native Sicily and the last days of its aristocracy (whose members were his immediate family) to life, began writing in 1957, just 30 months before his death at 61. As in "The Leopard," what most captivates is the magical combination of the textures and details (brocades, plant names and vistas) and that Chekovian "Cherry Orchard" point in history when a class system crumbles into the ocean, leaving poignant flotsam and delightful memories that read, so soon thereafter, like fiction. "For me," writes Lampedusa, "childhood is a lost paradise," particularly his home on the via Lampedusa in Palermo, which was bombed and destroyed in 1943. "I was a boy who loved solitude, who liked the company of things more than people." Even so, the Sicily he describes transcends, like many of his favorite things, that mere dimension to become memorable: "the scent of rosemary on the Nebrodi hills, the taste of Melilli honey, the waving corn seen from Etna on a windy day in May . . . the gusts of scent from orange and lemon groves pouring over Palermo . . . certain summer nights within sight of the Castellmare bay, when stars are mirrored in the sleeping sea and the spirit of anyone lying back amid the lentisks is lost in a vortex of sky. . . ."

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