Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Books: Tina, Mafia Soldier

In Italy, Maria Rosa Cutrufelli—a prominent player in the country's feminist movements and a prolific journalist, cultural critic, and novelist—needs no introduction, nor does her now-classic novel from the 1990s, 
Canto al deserto: Storia di Tina, soldato di mafia. A proto-trans narrative about a young girl turned mafia soldier, Cutrufelli's novel was groundbreaking in Italy as it defied deep-rooted cultural taboos about mafia power, child exploitation, feminism, and gender identity. Now, for the first time, Cutrufelli’s pioneering novel will reach English language readers in a masterful translation by Dr. Robin Pickering-Iazzi.
Set in 1980s Sicily, Tina, Mafia Soldier is a riveting literary character study of Tina, a teenage girl turned infamous local gang leader who has earned a name for herself through her recklessness, cruelty, and complete disregard for societal expectations. Nicknamed “the tomboy,” Tina deliberately blurs her gender presentation, using it to toy with others and gain her place in Cosa Nostra, an organization traditionally forbidden to women as made members. Alongside the story of Tina’s exploits is that of a teacher who feels compelled to write a novel about Tina and reluctantly returns to her native Sicily for research. While there, she and Tina circle around each other in a dangerous dance of obsession and violence until their first, and last, explosive meeting.
Decades after its original publication, Tina, Mafia Soldier is an iconic work of Italian literature that offers an invaluable examination of a specific moment in Italian history and culture. While Tina could certainly be read as a transgender character today, in the ‘90s, Cutrufelli’s controversial depiction of gender fluidity redefined femininity and opened the door for discussions of gender identity at a time when Italian society was extremely conservative and these concepts were not ingrained in the vernacular. This was also a time of national uproar about the escalating roles of mafia women, whose stories began surfacing in the media but have since remained shrouded in mystery.