Crass ignorance and injustice

Gerald Fenech reviews Juann Mamo: Grajja Maltija – Gabra ta’ Novelli, collected and annotated by Mark Vella

This collection of short stories must be hailed as a true classic as nowhere have I found such accurate and descriptive portrayals of the crass ignorance which permeated Maltese society in the late 19th and early 20th century. Mamo is comical in his prose but reading between the lines, one senses an anger at the terrible lot of the Maltese peasant, who was no better than a beast of burden in his travails and sufferings.

‘Wizu u Gorgi’ and ‘Xeni l-Ghada tal-Festa ta’ Santa Marija’ are cases in point – the former demonstrating hunger as a motif and the latter showing the crafty brutality of the moneyed classes who aim to squeeze the last drop out of their serfs. ‘Petest lahaq’ is also instructive in that this time it is a priest who is miserly and cruel to his flock with a poor man sent to his death over a few shillings (no health and safety regulations in those days, you see…).

This is truly a fine collection, and deserves all the exposure it can get. One looks out for more publications of this calibre, especially considering the brilliant and in depth annotations by Mark Vella.

The book was provided for review by Sierra Publications.

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