The Day of the Owl

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The Day of the Owl
First edition
AuthorLeonardo Sciascia
Original titleIl giorno della civetta
TranslatorArchibald Colquhoun and Arthur Oliver
LanguageItalian with some Sicilian
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint
Pages136 pp (English edition, softcover)
Preceded bySicilian Uncles 
Followed byThe Council of Egypt 

The Day of the Owl (Italian: Il giorno della civetta [il ˈdʒɔrno della tʃiˈvetta]) is a crime novel about the Mafia by Leonardo Sciascia, finished in 1960 and published in 1961.

As the author wrote in his preface of the 1972 Italian edition, the novel was written at a time in which the existence of the Mafia itself was debated and denied. Its publishing led to widespread debate and to renewed awareness of the phenomenon.

The novel is inspired by the assassination of Accursio Miraglia, a communist trade unionist, at Sciacca in January 1947. Damiano Damiani directed a movie adaptation in 1968.

Sciascia used this story as refutation against the Mafia and the corruption, apparent to his eyes, that led all the way to Rome.


In a small town, early on a Saturday morning, a bus is about to leave the small square to go market in the next town nearby. A gunshot is heard and the figure running for the bus is shot twice in the back, with what is discovered as a lupara (a sawn-off shotgun that the mafia use for their killings.) The passengers and bus driver deny having seen the murderer.

A Carabinieri captain from Parma, Bellodi, gets on the case, ruffling feathers in his contemporaries and colleagues alike. Soon he discovers a link that doesn't stop in Sicily, but goes onwards towards Rome and the Minister Mancuso and Senator Livigno.

It seems that the man shot, Salvatore Colasberna, was the owner of a small construction company. He had been warned that he should pay pizzo and take "protection" from mafia members, but he refused. Although his company was only a very small one, the local mafia decides to make an example of him and has him killed.

Using faintly corrupt methods, Bellodi traps one man and uses the names given by a dead informer to trap another, who has money stashed away in many bank accounts that add up to more than his fallow fields would ever bring. He is attempting to take down an organization with many members involved in the police and government, and whose mere existence many Sicilians deny. He has ignored the crime passionnel lead, which is often a handy excuse for mafia killings.

The death of an eyewitness leads to the collapse of the case against all three, which sees Bellodi taken off the case. The novel ends with Bellodi recounting his time in Sicily to his friends in Parma—who think that it all sounds very romantic—and thinking that he would return to Sicily even if it killed him.


The Day of the Owl is available in paperback under ISBN 1-59017-061-X (New York: NYRB Classics, 2003).

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel was filmed as Il giorno della civetta in 1968 by Damiano Damiani, starring Franco Nero as Captain Bellodi and Claudia Cardinale as Rosa Nicolosi.