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Prof Translates Italian Masterpiece; Meets Supreme Court Justice, a fan of Italian Literature

Santi Buscemi, professor of English at Middlesex County College, has translated a second book by Luigi Capuana, “The Marquis of Roccaverdina” (1903).

“In my view it is his masterpiece,” Buscemi said. “It is the story of a wealthy marquis in Sicily in the late 19th century. He has an affair with a servant woman with whom he is madly in love, but he is convinced by his family that he cannot marry her because of their class differences. He comes up with an idea to have the foreman of his estate marry her, but they have to live together as brother and sister – not as husband and wife.

“This does not turn out well,” Buscemi says with a smile.

Indeed. Marchese suspects that the foreman does not live up to the agreement, so he kills the man.

These events precede the novel, which exposes the Marquis’ jealousy and guilt.

“He now lives with remorse and pain,” Buscemi said. “It is an incredible work, lyrical, involving and introspective.”

This is the second book of Capuana (1839-1915) that Buscemi has translated. The first was “C’era una volta,” a collection of fairy tales under the English title “Sicilian Tales.” Both were published by Dante University Press.

“Capuana is the father of Italian naturalism, even though he disavowed that title as he got older,” Buscemi said. “Naturalists believe we have little free will; that outside forces such as biology, heredity, economics, politics and social standing control our behavior.

“In some ways this book relates to that,” he said. “But it also reflects Capuana’s belief in human psychology as a motivating factor, and he does a masterful job of depicting the agony of a human soul.”

Buscemi sent his first book to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who replied that his father had done significant research on Capuana, and he invited Buscemi and his wife Elaine to visit him at the court. The trip was March 14.

“He was so gracious and so kind to us,” Buscemi said. “He was unbelievably amiable. It was like sitting with your neighbor and having a cup of coffee. He had sent me a copy of his father’s dissertation and the first thing he asked was ‘Did it help?’ I told him it did, very much. His father had a dry sense of humor and poked fun at Capuana and other authors of his era. Justice Scalia told me ‘You’d have loved to meet my father.’

“At one point, he turned to Elaine and said, ‘What do you think about the new pope?’ and we talked a little bit about politics. It was a great visit. He was very friendly and warm.”