Sandra Benjamin was born in Troy, New York, and moved to New York City when she was sixteen. Eleven years ago she published The World of Benjamin of Tudela: A Medieval Mediterranean Travelogue. Since then she has spent much of her time in Sicily. Always fascinated by the varied ethnic groups of New York City, she was similarly attracted by the diversity of peoples who became part of the fabric of Sicily.
This solid narrative of the Mediterranean island emphasizes how its location has subjected it to one wave of conquest after another. Benjamin (The World of Benjamin Tudela), who has lived in Sicily for the past decade, traces Sicilian history back to the indigenous Neolithic cultures, which dated from 7000 B.C. up through the first millennium B.C. The Greeks and the Carthaginians fought one another to exhaustion, leaving Sicily a prey to the Romans, who converted it into a rich granary of estates worked by (often rebellious) slaves. Muslims from Africa succeeded the Romans in the seventh century A.D., and they in turn gave way to Norman French, the best rulers the island ever had. From the famous rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, Aragonese, Hapsburg and Bourbon Spaniards ruled, until Garibaldi used the island as a springboard for his unification of Italy in the 1860s. In this engaging read, Benjamin ably explains the temperament and culture of modern-day Sicilians, through the island's checkered political climate; its rugged and seismic terrain (the still-active Mt. Etna looms to the east); its poor soil and scant rainfall; as well as the mass emigration it endured in the 19th and 20th centuries. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"A compact history of the Mediterranean's largest island, the most frequently conquered spot on earth. . . . The author does an especially good job of explaining how history never quite goes away in Sicily, how through the accretion of centuries, through so many varied influences, the island's unique culture has emerged." - Kirkus Reviews "Benjamin . . . manages to deliver this fantastic island in all its kaleidoscopic variety. Although she takes us from pre-history to present day, the pace feels unhurried and the writing almost conversational." - The Providence Journal (A Best Book of the Year)