The Revenge of a Sicilian Olive: Olivo Oliva

There is no greater representation of a Sicilian than an olive. At times bitter and at times sweet, it can change its mood depending on the conditions of the land. In Philippe Poloni’s 1999 debut, Olivo Oliva, a vengeful olive carries out its wrath against a wealthy olive orchard owning family by begging the Great Patriarchal Tree it is perched upon to drop it down to the area where Milli Palme, a poor land worker, is penetrating Pina Di Vita, the youngest daughter of the family that controls the majority of the olive groves in town. Her uncle’s intent to get rid of over half the workers with machinery fuels the fire of Milli’s false affections toward Pina, who “didn’t love the girl who cried out during pleasure, and he hated the Great Patriarchal Tree above his head.” It is in this manner that Olivo Oliva is conceived from the seed of an olive that talks its tree into letting it drop to the ground. Into the depths of the vagina, and in general, “The Olive does not recognize black, because it is blackness itself.”

So is spawned an evil half olive/half man whose father ends up disappearing, to which the other Sicilians on the island insist the sea “took him” to America, as it had so many other lost and forgotten residents. With Pina left with the odiousness of her child, eventually named Olivo Oliva for his resemblance to the oval fruit, he grows into a truly contemptible hybrid. After wreaking psychological havoc on his mother, he heads to the promised land, New York City, where he finds himself in the role of contract killer, or as it is referred to more reverently, sicario. As his employer notes, “‘Contract killing is the oldest profession the world knows. It dates back to the birth of Man somewhere in Africa. With the first palisades came the first communities, the first psychologies and the first behaviors, the first ideas and the first cultures, the first policies and the first religions, the first polemics and the first undesirables. Contract killing is, and will always be, a political and cultural act. Without those aspects, the sicario would not exist. There would be only common criminals!'”

And so begins Olivo’s journey toward integration into not just the oldest profession, but the oldest stereotype of Sicilians. Quickly regarded as among the best of his kind, Olivo waits, tick-like as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, to return to his homeland and take back the land he sees as his own, in addition to coming to blows with his old enemy and forebear, the Great Patriarchal Tree. Poloni’s creative concept and execution of it leads the narrative through a series of twists, and perhaps explains why he waited until 2013 to write another novel. As a writer, it is often difficult to surpass oneself in innovation after it is done the first time around.

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