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Between Salt Water and Holy Water: A History of Southern Italy

by Tommaso Astarita

The history of Italy tends to focus on events from Rome northward, too often giving short shift to the peculiarly named “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.” Astarita does a masterful job of correcting this error and bringing to life for English speakers the people and events of these lands so central to the entire Mediterranean basin. European by geography, the region had close ties to Africa from the time of Carthage onward. Post-Roman Empire southern Italy fell under the sway of the Normans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and Astarita recounts the era of kings Roger I and II, who dealt with the diverse powers of the papacy and sizable Muslim populations in their realm. Astarita is at his best discussing South Italy and Sicily’s social history, the roles of religion and superstition as animating forces in the populace’s everyday lives. A highly readable history, this volume will be enthusiastically received wherever there are concentrations of Italian-Americans. Population tables and genealogical charts add to the text’s clarity. Review by Mark Knoblauch: Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.