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2 Bagheria by Dacia Maraini, Peter Owen pounds 15.50. The bestselling Italian author returns to the ancestral Sicilian villa which inspired her novel The Silent Duchess in this headily atmospheric autobiographical volume. Maraini recalls her family's arrival here in 1947 after two years as Japanese prisoners of war. She, a starving child acquainted with death, was confronted by her vainglorious aristocratic grandmother Sonia, still in thrall to her own former beauty and the voice that once attracted Caruso. From childhood the writer felt shame at belonging to one of the ancient families whose avarice she believed was at the root of Sicily's misfortunes, who had nourished that unmentionable, even greater evil - the Mafia. Maraini details how corrupt town councils and underhand tactics resulted in building developments which now obscure a superb baroque architectural heritage. Her trouble-shooting in this book has led directly to the imprisonment of several mafiosi property speculators. Maraini doesn't so much lay her ghosts as set them spinning: the 18th-century deaf-mute who was prototype for her fictional silent duchess; the father she loved; a family reputed to have descended from the sun. No half measures for these Sicilians.

Maggie Traugott