When Steven Price was in his early 20s and an aspiring writer, he picked up a book called The Leopard, an Italian masterpiece written in the 1950s by the last prince in his lineage, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa. The book was published one year after the prince died and received national acclaim.
“I was quite moved by it and dazzled,” Price said, adding that it would be years before he picked it up again. “I read it a second time, but in a different way; I picked up a lot of different things. Over the years I’ve read it several times and each time the book seems to go along with me, it moves with me and I guess that’s the definition of a masterpiece.”
After reading a biography and conducting further research into Lampedusa, Price began to notice something.
“Suddenly I could see how the structure of his novel was perfectly mirroring the structure of his own lived experience in the last two years of his life,” he said. “I saw a novel there.”
For years Price worked on a novel portraying the last years of Lampedusa’s life, trying to imagine the inner workings of the author’s mind. As a poet and author of esteemed fiction publications himself, including 2016 Scotia Bank Giller Prize nominee, By Gaslight, using the framing of a historical character was a slightly different experience.
“There are certain restrictions you need to have; where they were at a certain time, what they did… but there’s still a lot of gray areas, too,” Price said. “The novel exists in that gray area, the little areas lost in history.”
As part of his research Price traveled to Sicily and see the places featured in his novel. He even met the adopted son of Lampedusa, now 85, and toured the palazzo where the prince carried out the last years of his life.
“It was an amazing experience. Coming away from that, because I felt familiar in some bizarre way with the person I was meeting for the first time … I had this experience that I hadn’t gotten things entirely wrong,” Price said. “That was a moment of permission, like maybe this is going to work.”
Price’s 2019 novel, Lampedusa is on the long list for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, alongside heavy hitters like Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, and Andre Alexis’ Days By Moonlight.
In 2018 the Giller Prize winner was Victoria author – and Price’s wife – Esi Edugyan for her novel, Washington Black.
Price launches his book at Munro’s Books at 1108 Government St. on Sept. 18 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
While many people may not be familiar with the long-gone Italian prince, Price believes there’s still something anyone can carry away from his story.
“At the end of the day you hope people take away from your book the same things you take away from books you love; you hope they’re moved by them… you hope they leave the book feeling a little changed.”