With the Malta Book Festival just around the corner, it’s delightfully easy to get into the spirit of reading. Any bookworm who happens to be in Malta really must take the opportunity to check out the literary genius of a few of our own authors!
Of course, attempting to tap into our literary culture might be problematic for two main reasons, the first being that if you have no idea of who some of Malta’s most celebrated authors are, you run the risk of missing out on the really good stuff. The other reason is that it’s actually not too easy to come across a Maltese book written in English! Understandably, most of the time Maltese authors choose to stick to their mother tongue.
Don’t give up yet, though! You won’t need to learn Maltese to get an idea of what our literature is like. Because English too is an official language of Malta, there are quite a few gems around. Here is a list of five of our favourite Maltese books in English that you can ask about at the Malta Book Festival, or at your nearest book shop. This list is by no means exclusive, so keep digging for more great titles!
The Secret Life of Nanna Ġenoveffa – Trevor Żahra
If you ask a random Maltese person who the first Maltese author they can think of is, there’s an extremely high chance that the answer will be Trevor Żahra. With over 130 books published, you can’t really blame them, either. Żahra has written everything under the sun from children’s books to saucier adult novels, and The Secret Life of Nanna Ġenoveffa definitely falls under the latter category.
Though a translation from the original Maltese version (Il-Ħajja Sigrieta Tan-Nanna Ġenoveffa), none of the humour and clever use of language is lost in the English version. The story revolves around a manuscript found by the grandson of Nanna (Grandmother) Ġenoveffa – a manuscript that is definitely not for young eyes.
Offering an introspective take on the quiet roles Maltese women were expected to lead just a few generations back, Ġenoveffa’s story is full of hilarious sexual exploits, but the story is balanced out with the right amount of taste and emotive, relatable characters. Żahra’s short novel does what few novels manage to do as exceedingly well, which is tug on your heartstrings while making you chuckle at light-hearted naughtiness.
Two – Teodor Relijc
Two is Reljic’s debut novel, but it’s such a good read that you probably wouldn’t have realised unless we told you! The novel is about a family on holiday in Malta. Elizabeth, the mother, falls into a coma with little sign of recovery; the rest of the family is in shock.
As a means of coping, her son William, recalls the stories his mother would tell him when he was younger. When a stranger appears, he is given reason to believe that her stories aren’t just make-believe, and that there is a lot more to his mother than he initially thought.
We won’t give too much away from this captivating story! However, we will say that Reljic has managed to create a work that is emotionally engaging while also making use of Maltese folk traditions in a subtle, subversive way.
Several works by Francis Ebejer
We refuse to recommend any one title by Ebejer because the man is one of those iconic Maltese writers that any literature enthusiast needs to explore in more depth. A dramatist as well as a novelist, Ebejer’s works are often tackled more academically by university students.
That doesn’t mean that the casual reader won’t enjoy his writing! However, to appreciate Ebejer fully one does need to appreciate that Ebejer was avant-garde in the context of Maltese writing. Alongside many other techniques, he was known for using absurdity to demolish established social and literary traditions in Malta. Indeed, though his stories are set in the island, Ebejer explores themes that are very much universal.
Some of his English novels include A Wreath of Maltese Innocents (1958), Wild Spell of Summer (1968), In the Eye of the Sun (1969), Come Again in Spring: Requiem for a Malta Fascist (1980), Leap of Malta Dolphins (1982), and The Malta Baron and I Lucian (2002 – published posthumously).
What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels – Guze Stagno
One of Malta’s more prolific writers in recent years, Stagno is no stranger to controversy as a result of him not being afraid to speak his mind in writing. In other words, don’t expect safe, clean storytelling here!
An effortless read, Stagno’s novel is a must-read because it manages to fuse a great plot with relevant social commentary. Essentially, the novel can be seen as a take on all kinds of Maltese stereotypes, and how they are accentuated when taken out of the homeland. All in all, What happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels is a great way of getting to know the Maltese way of doing things in a brutally honest way.
Barefoot in the Saltpans – Daniel Massa
This recommendation is for the poetry fans! Daniel Massa is a highly celebrated Maltese poet for his writings in Maltese as well as in English. His latest collection, Barefoot in the Saltpans, simply validates that celebration further.
The poems here are centred around seascapes, and the visceral, raw responses that are generated from being caught in the midst of such physical grandeur.