Tuesday 3 May 2016

Review ~ The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati

The Bearsโ€™ Famous Invasion of Sicily
Alma Books
May 2016

Translated by Frances Lobb

Starving after a harsh winter, the bears descend from the mountains in search of food and invade the valley below, where they face fierce opposition from the army of the Grand Duke of Sicily. After many battles, scrapes and dangers, the bears’ reign is established over the land, but their victory comes at a price.

First published in Italian in 1945, this book has been recently reissued with a glorious cover, which seeks to reintroduce the story of The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily to a modern day readership. However, inside the book,  the story remains gloriously alive with Buzzati's original 1940s artwork, both in colour and black and white, which is quite stunning and very evocative of the era in which the book was published. The story was been beautifully translated into English in 1947 by Frances Lobb and there is a poignant letter from Dino Buzzati to Frances Lobb, dated December 1947 in which he says "Brava! Bravissima!" for her wonderful translation of his story, and I so agree with this sentiment.

I'm not going to tell you the story of the Bears of Sicily, as this book is best read in its entirety without spoilers from me, but what I will say is that from the moment you open the book, you begin to realise what a special book you hold in your hands. The words flow well, and interspersed with prose and verse what emerges is a story of true bravery in the face of cruel adversity. There are moments of violence and some younger readers may be put off by that, but probably no worse than they would find in modern day children's stories, and I suppose it's readership is aimed at maybe ten, eleven, twelve year olds who can immerse themselves in a story without adult interference. At the end of the book there's an extensive reader's companion by Lemony Snicket which is nicely informative and which offers a wonderful additional insight to the story.

The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily sits very comfortably as an ideal parent/child  'read it together at bed-time' sort of book. 

Best Read with...A Buzzati cocktail, spicy with ginger and a few roasted chestnuts...

About the Author

The novelist, journalist and painter Dino Buzzati is one of the most important voices of twentieth-century Italian literature. He is best remembered today for his novel The Tartar Steppe and the story The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, which he illustrated himself and has become a classic of Italian children’s literature.

About the Translator

Frances Lobb was the pen name of Leila Buckley (1917-2013), a linguist, poet and scholar who was educated in France, Germany and Italy. During the Second World War she worked in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office. Her other translations include poetry,politics, and philosophy and a number of children's books by Karl Bruckner and Michael Ende. She was also the author of three highly individual novels.

My thanks to Alma Books for my delightful copy of this classic children's story book



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