Fragile stories of fragile humanity

Popular author Pierre Mejlak will be launching a new short story collection this Wednesday at Palazzo Falson, Mdina from 20:30.

Two and a half years ago, possibly one of the most haunting books in Maltese literature was published. Rich in texture and emotions, each word carved out of literary stone, with an apparent simplicity that belied the technique behind each story, Qed Nistenniek Nieżla max-Xita [I’m waiting for you to fall with the rain] by then-emerging young author Pierre J. Mejlak was rightly hailed as a landmark in contemporary Maltese fiction.

Xita – as it is affectionately known by fans – went on to become one of the bestselling short story collections in Malta – which is a statement in itself, given the dearth of short story collections anywhere near a Top 10 list.

Meanwhile, Mejlak won the Europe-wide Sea of Words Short Story Award – the first Maltese ever to win the prestigious award – read his stories at international festivals, had his books exhibited at the Frankfurt, London and Bologna Book Fairs, and sold rights to a number of his works to American publisher Words without Borders.

Next Wednesday, in the historic surroundings of Palazzo Falson, Mdina, at 20:30, Mejlak’s much-anticipated new book is being launched. Suggestively called Dak li l-Lejl Iħallik Tgħid [What the night lets you say], it is a collection of ten gems of Mejlak’s writing, showing up the short story genre at its best and putting paid to the myth that a short story cannot have a strong plot and character exploration.

The stories in Dak li l-Lejl Iħallik Tgħid are as diverse as can be, the line running through them being, in the author’s words, “the power of memories” and the savouring of the thrill of being alive. Compared to his previous work, the characters here are more scarred, the locations more lived-in and the passing of time more urgent. Stories like L-ambaxxatriċi [The ambassador] luxuriate in the promise of sex, of nighttime thrills, of initiations both carnal and social, and on a literary level expose an author comfortable with playing confidently with timelines, parallel stories and twists.

Il-kubu ta’ Rubik [Rubik’s Cube] is a delicious tale of human beings’ easy judgements, set to a backdrop of a city dusting itself from the ruins of civil strife, while at the other extreme Riħitu is a tour de force of sheer class, a verbal depiction of the intimacy that comes of a shared bed, of pillow talk and mind games.

Mejlak’s latest collection includes Nixtieq ngħajjat lil Samirah [I want to call out to Samirah], the Sea of Words Award winning story, tinged with multicultural tensions but without the politically correct pretensions so common in certain contemporary literature.

Mejlak confirms his reputation as an author with a penetrating eye into the psyche and soul of fellow human beings, and does not shy away from exploring the darker side of human nature: Il-barranija [The foreigner] and Kolp ta’ Stat, as well as L-aħħar sajf tiegħek, Amy [Your last summer, Amy] – possibly the darkest story in the collection – zoom in onto human deviousness, be it on a large-scale political level, on a personal level or in a faux-innocent situation.

For Wednesday’s launch, the publishers and author have prepared an evening worthy of the book, in the spectacular setting of the Palazzo’s courtyard, with a mix of postcards, conversation and wine.