Published by MacLehose Press
Translated by Patrick Creagh
A couple of years ago I took part in a take-a-picture-a-day competition. Almost half the pictures I took were of trees – I love them. Thus the cover on this unsolicited review copy sparked my interest. To find then that the novel is set in Sardinia when I’m busy island-hopping around the world of fiction explains why this book climbed swiftly to the top of Mount TBR.
Not only is the cover beautiful but the impressionistic tree with its Pan-like figure at the base is an perfect fit to the tone of this fable-like history of Samuele Stocchino. Nicknamed The Tiger of Ogliastra, Stocchino was one of Sardinia’s most notorious bandits, fierce and unrelenting in his vendetta against his personal enemies, the seeds of which are sown when one man refused to offer Stocchino and his father a drink of water.
It could be argued that Stocchino is nothing but a ruthless, merciless terrorist. But he is a legend with it. Scattered throughout the mainly chronological retelling of his life are allusions to his invincibility; a legend spawned by incidents such as the day he fell into a deep abyss and survived, and by the way he cheated death during the Great War. Seminal moments both: the former, as in the abyss, the futility of existence, haunts him throughout life; the latter teaches him how to kill.
He was a mere foot soldier who had found a meaning in life. He did not stand out in a crowd, he was simply an enterprising butcher’s boy in the Award-winning Italian Butchery. He was the agent on earth of Death & Co. Now, there was something he knew, but had no name for. The wolf pulsing in his heart had grown its fangs.
An unsanctioned killing spree begins when he returns home from war to find his family have been swindled and his girlfriend stolen by the richest family in the neighbourhood. Like all good legends, he nails a notice to the church door.
By this time you all know that certain persons have persecuted me and others of my family … And I have started and will continue to be a butcher to these scroundrels. From now on all those who do us harm will be repaid in their own coin by me. Samuele Stocchino.
His reign of terror is unstoppable, even with a price of 250,000 lire on his head. Years later Mussolini, shamed by such lawlessness in his realm, sends a special envoy to tame the tiger. Up until this point, the 3rd person narrative is solely Stocchino’s. While looking through his eyes, the flesh and blood of the man isn’t tangible. That comes into focus when the point of view shifts to that of Mussolini’s hunter, Saverio Polito. And what do we see? Not a huge monstrous presence to match the reputation. Rather a small shrunken human, a man who is as much a victim as those he has killed; someone who has fallen into an abyss of his own making.
What they had not understood about the “tiger” was that he was waging a war against himself … For him, the only conceivable good thing was to assuage the fury within him.
How much of this story is true? Let the author explain:
Samuele Stochino is a historical character, though at the same time legendary. Samuele Stocchino (with double c) is the twice-over legendary character whose story is told in these pages. What you have read is not the truth ….
Now I don’t mind the mixing of fact and fiction but therein lies my only problem with this book. If this is fictional, then surely there must have been options for a more satisfactory ending – after all that prior drama, where did that anti-climax originate?