The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

A contemporary delicacy

Tuesday, 15 September 2020, 10:31 Last update: about 2 months ago

Fir-Rutina tal-Kwarantina. Author: Alfred Massa. Publisher: BDL Publications 2020. Extent: 159 pages.

Therese Pace

It is common belief that the local reading community tends to favour prose to poetry. The reasons may be various: we all know everyone likes stories. They intrigue us, bringing to the fore the good, bad and curious elements of society. A story is longer in text and thus provides for a really long read; it is easier to understand than poetry - it being more straightforward.

Educator and writer Alfred Massa is certainly not new to the local literary scene. He already has  a number of poetry collections to his name as well as anthologies he edited as president and co-founder of the Maltese Poets Association, not to mention the already published novels that bear his signature.

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As a man worth his salt, he wants to hand over to Caesar what is Caesar's due. He feels he has to acknowledge good actions when he meets them. This hot from the oven novel, Fir-Rutina tal-kwarantina is, befittingly, dedicated to the Health Authorities and all the frontliners, paramedics and staff, working at the hospitals and clinics, battling this pandemic on a daily basis, risking their lives to take care of our health.

The story that encapsulates this book is very actual and factual. It is built around a group of families going about their normal lives in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently hitting the globe, which indicates that it was written very recently. Massa's style of writing is light, clear and straightforward with, every now and then, twists to the story that do not, in themselves, deviate enough from the main plot to make you lose your interest. It is a distinctive diary-like style, reminiscent of one who never missed the sequence after sequence happenings  since the first COVID-19 case emerged on our island, all of which is intertwined with the events of a group of local families living or visiting a town in Malta. He enters into various details: real time dates, names, hospitals, countries and how they fared during the pandemic, each consequential detail that had hit the news bulletins entering the fray in the order that it happened.

He picks up various elements of Maltese life to bring out our characteristics: Mena, the lady helper at Romina's family home, depicts the local afficionada of the cronaca rosa - the know-all of the town's affairs, the woman everyone approaches to get the news they hanker after. The parish priest, Jessie's sister and brother-in-law that step in to help when help is needed, are all examples of sound moral values and a sense of fraternity. The book also demonstrates the strong bond and unity that characterise the Maltese communities.

The author demonstrates a strong degree of Catholic belief and religiosity as he recounts the prayers of beseechment that Pawlu and Salvinu made when their mother and Pawlu's wife Jessie were diagnosed positive to the virus. Another instance is shown to us when Romina, herself ill, went to visit Bernard, himself also at the hospital, notwhithstanding his abandoning her without a valid reason. Another example is when he writes that marriage is for life. All this is indicative that the Roman Catholic belief  is still prevalent in our country.

This book makes for a very clean and comfortable read in these days of social distancing when we get to enjoy more free time. One does not get to strain the eyes: the fonts are clear, the language not heavy. No unnecessary frills, irrelevant chronicles that denies you the pleasure of reading.

Will he treat us to more of this delectable fare? I sincerely hope so. 


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