A place where truth and lies collideIn a dark, stinky prison, four political prisoners who are sentenced to die the next day are gathered in a room: a baron, a poet, a soldier and a student. They are condemned for treason against the Bourbon king, who rules Sicily.
The governor of the prison offers them a last-minute reprieve: If any one of the four reveals the identity of their mysterious leader, all will go free.
The four decide to spend their last hours recounting their individual stories. In the style of Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” the storytelling begins. But is each character telling the truth, or merely telling lies in the darkness of the night?
As the stories continue, dawn and their executions approach. At this point, the reader’s heart begins to pound. Will they choose to live in disgrace, or die noble deaths?
When this work was nominated for Italy’s Strega Prize in 1988, all the other nominates famously conceded that it would be meaningless to fight with this piece.
Bufalino’s real-life experiences, from being a prisoner of war to have suffered from tuberculosis, makes the book vivid. There are also subtle hints of other literary works, operas and political situations - from “The Count of Monte Cristo” to “Kiss of the Spider Woman” - popping up.
Above all, there is an interesting hook that keeps readers on their toes: not all the stories happening in this imaginary kingdom (with Sicily as the background) are lies.
Why is it interesting? Because these tales of justice, goodness and deceit could be our own stories, and reading them makes the reader sweat just a little.
How does the story end? No one knows.