On Persephone's Island

by Mary Taylor Simeti. Knopf, $18.95. Mrs. Simeti’s “Sicilian Journal” covers a year on the island—not the calendar year but the old agricultural progress from one grape harvest to the next. Along the way there are traditional festivals and religious celebrations, excursions to ruins, investigations of local history, and Mafia murders. The author, who evidently has a passion for plants, displays a deft touch wtih scenicdescription and an amiably unsentimental view of country neighbors who are as wily as they are picturesque. Overall, she describes a borderline situation—a beautiful country in which past and present collide rather than merge, and where families like her own live fairly comfortably in what amounts to a war zone.