“Domenico Valenti.” This name is whispered to foreign correspondent Frank Viviano by his grandfather the night before he dies. This turns out to be the name of Viviano”s great-great-grandfather”s killer and Viviano sees it as the key to unlocking the mystery surrounding his ancestor”s murder. The author sets off for the beautiful island of Sicily only to discover that this name is only the first piece in a complicated puzzle. Between stints of reporting in Bosnia, Viviano spends his time in Sicily searching for the truth about his family. With each discovery, he realizes that he is not only getting closer to uncovering the mystery, but also to understanding the silent but powerful system that has controlled Sicilian society for years. The true story of his quest is the subject of his latest book, “Blood Washes Blood.”
Frank Viviano is the at-large foreign correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. He has traveled internationally, covering events from Tiananmen Square to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has also covered organized crime all over the world. For his work as a journalist, Viviano has twice received the World Affairs Council”s Thomas Storke Award for Achievements in International Reporting. He has also written six other non-fiction books.
Although it is also a true story, “Blood Washes Blood” seems at times surreal because of its legend-like quality. Viviano searches, often fruitlessly, through ancient records to uncover his family”s past. However, he is helped along by many coincidences. A house he rents in a citrus grove just happens to be the house where his ancestor lived, across the street from Valenti, his killer. Fairy-tales told by Viviano”s grandmother take on new meanings as he discovers the epic love stories in his familial history. All of these come together to help the author understand the life of his mysterious ancestor who shares his name, Francesco Paolo Viviano.
Not only does this book link past and present, it also interweaves the bare facts of history with the parallel shadowy universe of the Sicilian underworld. Viviano details the invasions and resulting civil wars that have consistently plagued Sicilian history. Although this can get a little tedious, Viviano keeps the reader”s interest by also describing what is happening behind the scenes. Viviano”s story illustrates this “sistema del potere,” the power structure that has been present in Sicily for generations. His ancestor was at the center, and had earned a nickname that would outlast his death, “the Monk.”
A figure shrouded in myth, the Monk was a Robin Hood-like bandit who journeyed by night in a friar”s robe. He had been on the losing side of two wars against invaders, which left him with no qualms in stealing from the foreign rich to give money to peasants. Why would his neighbor Valenti wish to kill him?
Viviano discovers the answer in the passion and fury of the Sicilian blood feuds. From the tale of a man who killed 31 of his neighbors to the vendetta that is at the center of his own family narrative, Viviano tells the tales as only a skilled journalist could. They epitomize the Sicilian belief that only “blood washes blood,” and help the reader gain understanding into a society that lives by this rule. These conflicts all come together in a climax that has a surprising resolution that adds new significance to not only Viviano”s family past, but also his own life.
The juxtaposition of his objective tone and the intensely emotional stories makes the book a believable fairy-tale. Many are fascinated with the beautiful and dangerous world of Sicily, but few actually comprehend it. In “Blood Washes Blood,” Frank Viviano offers invaluable insight into the relationships, the betrayals, and the murders that so enthrall Americans. For anyone trying to understand this society, this book is not to be missed.