The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Introduced by Anne Brichto, Addyman Books, Hay-on-Wye
You come across a beloved book in a variety of ways. Sometimes your eyes lock on a particular spine in a charity shop or library, sometimes a book just seems to say buy me and at other times you are given a present that is the perfect read.
The Leopard was the most unusual of book love affairs I’ve ever experienced. When I was 15 we were doing some mock English Language papers under real exam conditions as practice. The comprehension passage was from this book. I loved the rich description of an Italian palace with a young woman and her sweetheart enjoying some freedom from their elders.
After the test I didn’t bother with lunch I just rushed to the school library and was lucky enough to find a copy like this one which I started reading sat on a plastic grey chair by a laminated grey table. I had to stop for afternoon lessons but I continued to read it that evening until I had finished it.
It still remains in my top five books of all time and if I’m feeling low it’s melancholy and sense of people, place and history always heartens me. The descriptions within are filmic in their dense intensity and you find yourself eating, walking, running and even making love alongside the characters.
There is an added poignancy as the author di Lampedusa never saw this book in print. A friend in publishing read the manuscript and said it was unpublishable and would not sell. How wrong he was and I hope Lampedusa realised he had written something of true worth before he died. It has been translated into almost every language and is one of the most well regarded books of Italian literature. My love affair with it has lasted nearly 40 years.