Secrets of Life and Death

Secrets of Life and Death:Women and the Mafia

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This volume focuses on women whose lives are entangled in the workings of the Mafia, drawing on courtroom testimonies, interviews, contemporary journalism and recent research. Individual narratives illuminate women's experiences, both as victims or active opponents.

Secrets of Life and Death is the first book to focus on women whose lives are entangled in the workings of the mafia. Drawing on courtroom testimonies, interviews, contemporary journalism and recent research, Siebert cuts through the mafia’s myth of honouring women to expose the harsh realities for women living with, and fighting against, the mafia. With careful attention to the socio-economic realities of southern Italy, she looks at what it actually means to live in the mafia’s shadow. She explores the gains and costs of being a mafia wife in New York or Palermo, probing the emotions underlying women’s mafia loyalties and the sexual lure of the mafioso.
In vivid and often harrowing detail, Siebert examines women’s growing resistance to a culture of death and dangerously intensified masculinity. Alongside the public stories of the wives of murdered judges, policemen and politicians, she places the extraordinary accounts of women who have taken a stand against their own mafia upbringing or have spoken out as witnesses, at enormous personal cost. It is women’s courageous initiatives, Siebert shows, which have led to the development of local anti-mafia organizations and recent mass protests in the face of violent intimidation. Poignant and incisive, Secrets of Life and Death breaks the code of silence to tell a story that is both haunting and inspiring.


  • Books about the mafia are either intelligent or exciting. This one is both. But the author never lets sensationalism get the upper hand. It is such a considered, thoughtful work, yet the subject it deals with, principally the enslavement and victimization of women, and, not least, their corruption, is so shocking as to stun. The result is a considerable achievement.

    Ruth Rendell
  • The women of the mafiosi always know everything. If they talk, it's all over for Cosa Nostra.