Friday, May 08, 2020

The Florios of Sicily, a saga based on a 19th-century entrepreneurial family

In her first novel translated into English, Auci has fashioned a classic saga out of authentic Sicilian history.

This fluidly written Italian bestseller follows three generations of Florios, who rose to become entrepreneurs on a massive scale in the nineteenth century. After an earthquake strikes their Calabrian village in 1799, brothers Paolo and Ignazio Florio relocate with their family to Palermo, Sicily’s capital, and open a spice shop. Over seven decades, Paolo’s son, Vincenzo, and grandson, Ignazio, learn the ropes of the business, establishing connections and vanquishing rivals as Italy’s turbulent politics swirls around them.

Through hard work and clever innovations, plus boatloads of determination, their trade steadily expands, encompassing commodities like quinine powder, canned tuna in oil, and Marsala wine. One can simultaneously admire their ingenuity, bemoan the snobbery they face (despite their wealth, aristocrats look down on them as laborers), and sympathize with the Florio women, whose wishes are often sacrificed to male ambition.

For fans of big, meaty epics chock full of drama and intriguing characters, Auci’s fictionalized tale of the real-life Florios delivers in spades.

The Florios of Sicily was published by HarperVia, HarperCollins' new imprint for translated literature, in April. The translator is Katherine Gregor, and the book's subtitle is "the story of the uncrowned kings of Sicily."

Read more about the author in an interview she did for the Made in Egadi site.  I hope there'll be a sequel!  This review was written for the 3/15/20 issue of Booklist (reprinted with permission).


  1. This has to be a novel I need to read - tempted in part by the Sicily setting. Although separated by time and culture, I grew up in an English family who made their fortune as entrepreneurs in the 19th century - beginning from nothing and seen as 'nouveau riche'.

  2. That's fascinating - and that background sounds very similar to this story. I enjoyed all the details about Sicilian culture at the time, as it related to family life, politics, and the economy. Hope you find it a good read also.

  3. I love reading family sagas. Having no knowledge of life in Sicily, this will be a good book for me to read.

  4. Family sagas are my favorite subgenre!