There are some books that thoroughly deserve the honor of being called classics. "The Leopard" by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is one of those books. There can be no doubt that it is a classic, a master piece of Italian literature.
If you haven't seen the film, then please please read the book first. It makes more sense that way and I promise you won't regret it. Both the book and the film are splendid. Written by Sicilian prince (yes, no kidding) Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, they tell the story of a crumbling aristocratic family but the story of the author is almost as good. Growing up among the upper classes on Sicily, Lampedusa was in many ways the last of his kind and the edition of the book that I read had a great introduction to the author and his work which was quite an advantage.
"The Leopard" opens in a magnificent villa in Sicily during the time of the Risorgimento when Italy went from being several states to one single state known as Italy. The Prince is ruling his house and his family, dominating the Princessand their brood of children, the dogs, the horses, even the pastor - only the Prince's nephew, Tancredi, can soften the Prince. The Prince is truly a fomidable man, the last of his species. At the hands of Garibaldi, the Italy of his youth is changing and a new class is taking over, a class that the old aristocracy considers crass, vulgar and nouveau riche.
One of these new families are Don Calogero and his peasant wife and their beautiful daughter. Angelica is everything that the Prince's own daughter's with the good breeding and traditional values can't be. She is sensual and sexual, beautiful, radiant, intelligent and accomplished. So accomplished that she can even fake the breeding and connections that she lacks.
Although he has previously been courting Concetta, the Prince's daughter, Tancredi falls hard and fast for Angelica and the Prince has to come to terms with the new ways of the world and accept that people that would previously not have been invited for dinner are now to be considered part of the family.
It is an stunning story of a changing world. Not only is "The Leopard" quite possibly the best way to learn about a very important time in Italian history, it is also a lesson in the way the world changes and the way that we have to change with it - or at least accept change - in order to survive and thrive.
Read if it: You're interested in Italian history or just history in general. You like classic literature with strong characters. And don't forget - read it before you see the film!