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The book that changed my life

With the annual World Book Day taking place yesterday, we asked some local personalities about a book that left a lasting impact on their lives.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
24 April 2013, 12:00am
TREVOR ZAHRA

Trevor Zahra


Author: Meta Jaqa' Ic-Cpar, Is-Surmast, various


 "There are books that capture our imagination. Others intrigue us with the originality of their storyline. Then sometimes we might come across a particular book in whose pages we discover a fragment of ourselves. Its characters reveal our own anxieties and preoccupations. We get the feeling that we could have written that same story ourselves, because we have already shaped it in some other forgotten life. On reading Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, I experienced all these marvellous and bizarre feelings. This book and all Márquez's major works, which I subsequently read, changed my way of writing and my outlook towards literature. While writing about small Colombian towns and villages, Márquez manages to infuse his characters with a universal appeal. Instead of 'Solitude' Márquez gave me excellent company.

CLARE AGIUS

Clare Agius


Actress, presenter

"Back in my early 20s I was really into travelling, and this kind of searching spirit of mine kept me wanting to explore and continue experiencing different cultures, people and places. I cannot recall how The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho, came my way, but I can recall the feeling of "Finally! I have found a book that resonates with me in this particular moment!" In a way, this book kind of symbolises me, in that I love to be out there just as much as I love to be within myself."

PETER DAVIES

Peter Davies


CEO, Air Malta

"There are of course many, but as a young boy studying O-levels, I was required to read My Early Life, by Winston Churchill. I found this absolutely fascinating because, while it was written as an adventure story, it also taught me - I was 15 - the virtues of what a strong character and conviction he had as a young man. His pragmatism and sense of resolve very much shaped my own life. I was fortunate to come from a military and farming background, and this gave me a sense of responsibility and patriotism to my family and my country. This book solidified my thinking at a young age in terms of personal virtues and values. I must have read the book dozens of times and still read it occasionally today to act as a tiller for guiding my principles. A great book written by someone who would become a great man, but he didn't know it at the time. Self-determination and the capability to unify a nation is an accomplishment. He didn't suffer fools gladly, and neither to do I. As a school, we went to his lying in state and his funeral. As youngsters we wept."

GUZE STAGNO

Guze Stagno


Author: Inbid ta' Kuljum, Xemx Wisq Sabiha, Ramon u z-Zerbinotti

"My choice is Tuse Costa's Il-Kappillan u l-MLP, not so much for the content as for the way the author was presenting himself to his readers: here was a Maltese writer (a bespectacled Lino Banfi lecher type, given the grainy, black-and-white photo on the back cover) taking the piss in a manner that was still unheard of in Maltese literary circles. I don't know what the public's reaction was upon the book's publication - I only discovered Il-Kappillan in the mid-90s, a good 20 years after it came out - but the fact that nowadays almost no one remembers Costa or his books simply shows that the guy was way, way ahead of his time... somewhat like a 1970s Juann Mamo (another trailblazer whose work was lost on many of his contemporaries, including national poet Dun Karm, who famously dismissed the Ulied in-Nanna serialisation as nothing more than amusing bagatelles). So it goes..."

MANUEL XUEREB

Manuel Xuereb


Presenter: Aroma Kitchen, ONE (pictured, centre)


"One book in particular that was a real eye opener for me and in fact touches every day of our lives in one way or another is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It was a book that I studied for my final year at secondary school...many years ago. The story is about an African who is wrongly accused of rape, because of the colour of his skin. The storyline of this book taught me that we are all one and the same and equal. Unfortunately, ignorance plays a big part of many people's lives to this day. Some know better but still choose to be racist, cruel and judge people who are different, where others unfortunately have been brought up to know no better.

Another principle that I learned from this book is that no matter how big or small you may be in this society, you can always learn something from someone - again, no matter who they are! If we judge people less, give everyone a chance in life and are willing to learn from other cultures, the world will be such a better place."

 ALEX VELLA GERA

Alex Vella Gera

Author: Is-Sriep Regghu Saru Velenuzi, Antipodi

"There are a number of candidates, each of which changed me in its own unique way, from an illustrated version of Sleeping Beauty I leafed through incessantly as a child, to Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, which opened my mind to the perverse child I truly am, or Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, which simply opened my mind. Or how about Will Self's My Idea of Fun, which made the writer in me green with envy, but the reader in me glad to have finished the book in one piece.

Sometimes, Alex the Reader and Alex the Writer come together as one when a rare book comes along that grabs me by the scruff of my neck and says 'Now read me and weep' (for joy, first and foremost). The one that sticks in my mind most is the modernist classic Ulysses, by James Joyce, simply because it was the first book I read (at age 17) where the presence of the writer behind the printed words was so tangible to me and clarified a lot of my ideas about what writing is all about. Over two decades later I am still trying to unlearn everything that book taught me, above all the glowing realisation that can only come with life experience that riding a pen down streams of consciousness is not necessarily the best route towards revelation and epiphany (to borrow another Joycean trait).

Better minds than mine have celebrated this novel (a notable example is Stephen Fry's appreciation of Ulysses – it's on YouTube) in all its colourful brilliance, its linguistic virtuosity and precision, its ambition, its sense of place, etc. I don't have much to add except that as a 17, 18 and 19-year-old, reading Ulysses was second nature to me, but now at 39 I find it an insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps by the time I hit 60 I'll have unlearned all there is to unlearn and then allow myself to rediscover Ulysses for a second time."

GIANLUCA BEZZINA

Gianluca Bezzina


Doctor, Singer - Malta's Eurovision hopeful for 2013

"There are many books which have influenced me in some way or another, however surely the one that made me who I am and changes me constantly is The Bible. It might sound cliché, but it is the book that has no expiry date and will always remain as alive as the day it was written. It is a guide and presents some tough challenges to my daily life, however it is also a never-ending source of love, encouragement, comfort, truth, life... and it's the only book I make sure to read every day! Reading the book makes me fall in love and appreciate the love of the author... so yes, it is definitely the book that changes my life every day."

KENNETH ZAMMIT TABONA

Kenneth Zammit Tabona

Painter, columnist


"It was sheer extraordinary coincidence to be asked about my favourite book just as my friends and I were being driven into Palermo. Palermo being the city that provides the main backdrop to one of the most celebrated novels of the 20th century: Giuseppe di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo. I first read this groundbreaking novel when still a teenager and was hooked. The similarity of the Siculo Latin characters who, like the Maltese, are caught in a religious miasma and a strait-laced society that the prince despite outward appearances strives to break. Fabrizio Corbera is a rebel. Hence he is also the perfect hero. In Lampedusa's prince we see the final swan song of a kingdom boasting of great warriors and statesmen like Robert Guiscard, Bohemund, Roger II and Frederick - known as Stupor Mundi! Yes, this book which I reread religiously every year holds some new insight and evokes some new emotion."

EVARIST BARTOLO

Evarist Bartolo


Minister for Education

"In 1976 I read Letter to a teacher, written by eight young Italian boys from the village of Barbiana in the mountains outside Florence. It was written under the guidance of Don Lorenzo Milani, a parish priest who was sent to a remote parish because he was anti-establishment. It is a devastating critique of an education system designed against the poor. It raises fundamental questions which educators everywhere must consider. It hits hard, but it also proposes how we can have an education system that is more human, just and relevant when it integrates language teaching, math, science, history and geography with practical, hands-on experience and equips students with the life skills to be active and discerning citizens, employable and committed to working for an open, just and democratic society."

CLARE AZZOPARDI

Clare Azzopardi


Author: Il-Linja Hadra, L-Interdett Taht Is-Sodda

"It's difficult to commit myself to just one book. So I won't. Instead I am committing myself to one short story by Antonio Tabucchi, The Trains That Go To Madras from the book Little Misunderstandings of No Importance. In this story Rossignol meets Peter Schlemihl on a train that's going to Madras and is sceptical when he hears this name because, as he says, "there's only one Peter Schlemihl," and that is Chamisso's protagonist in the novella The Marvellous Adventures of Peter Schlemihl. Tabucchi's story leaves you with many unanswered questions: Who is this Peter Schlemihl? Is he fiction? Is he not? Is he an imposter, a murderer, a Nazi criminal, a Holocaust survivor? All of these things at once? It's such a powerful story that it automatically nails you to Chamisso's novella to meet the real Peter Schlemihl, who trades his shadow with the devil in exchange for endless riches."

SIMON BUSUTTIL

Simon Busuttil

PN Deputy Leader

"In 1984, as the Cold War raged on, I read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four. I cannot say that it changed my life - I was just 15 years of age. But in hindsight, I can certainly say that it certainly had a lasting impact on me. Orwell's masterpiece riveted my attention for its brilliance, written as it was in 1948 and yet depicting with such incisiveness and foresight the serious flaws of communist and autocratic systems that were yet to unfold decades after the book was written. I would never have imagined that my own country would itself come so close to the brink of authoritarianism and later start the long and painful road towards a fully fledged democracy and full integration into the European Union. Still less had I imagined that I would myself become a political animal and an active player in the latter process. But Orwell's genius had certainly taught me a thing or two about why the struggle for freedom is worth fighting."

PIERRE MEJLAK

Pierre Mejlak


Author: Rih Isfel, Qed Nistenniek Niezla Max-Xita, Dak Li Il-Lejl Ihallik Tghid

 "I don't have a book that changed my life... but of course there are books which I loved more than others. I remember clearly how wonderful it was reading The Bad Girl (Mario Vargas Llosa), Murakami's Norwegian Wood or The Reader (Bernhard Schlink). On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan) and Perfume (Martin Suskind) would also find a place in my top 10 list of books that I enjoyed reading in recent years."

MICHAEL FALZON

Michael Falzon


Columnist, former minister

"It is difficult to pick just one book that 'changed my life', but I reckon that Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene makes it to the elite group of books that have influenced my thinking to a great extent. Dawkins, of course, is known as a fierce advocate of atheism and a harsh critic of religious dogmatism. But essentially he is an evolutionary biologist. That this science led him to the conclusion that God does not exist is the controversial aspect of other books by Dawkins.

This book is solely about how he sees evolution as being gene-centred rather than the workings of organisms. It is not some manifesto for atheism, as many might suspect, considering Dawkins's reputation, but a serious scientific work that gives an insight of how nature works. One can still enjoy The Selfish Gene while completely putting aside the argument whether the astonishing sequence of events that is evolution was sparked off by a supernatural being or whether it happened spontaneously as Dawkins insists. Dawkins's logical conclusions - supported by research - are fascinating.

For example, the gene-centred view leads one to conclude that the more two individual creatures are genetically related, the more they behave selflessly with each other, as this is in the interest of the genes, albeit not necessarily in the interest of the individual. Moreover, an organism evolves to maximise the number of copies of its genes passed on on our planet, rather than by a particular individual."

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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Am impressed with Alex Vella Gerda's choice, both Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Joyce's "Ulysses" are amongst my all time favourites as well!
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