The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

The adventures of a Maltese Fascist

Noel Grima Thursday, 22 July 2021, 12:19 Last update: about 3 months ago

Inside the Horse – A Maltese Odyssey. Author: Vincent Vella. Publisher: Horizons 2021. Pages: 417pp

I must declare at the outset that I fail to understand the author's reasons for giving this book such a title. I understand the reference, of course, to the Trojan horse but still can't understand why the book came to have that title. This is so reductive of the whole book.

The book is the whole story of a Maltese soldier of fortune, told in the first person, from his upbringing in Mdina in a mixed family, with a boozy English father and an aristocratic mother coming from one of Malta's oldest, and most impoverished, families.

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That side of the family comes with a bevy of notable characters - a potent monsignor, a would-be politician and a trader nannu.

Such influences position the protagonist firmly on the Fascist side of Maltese politics.

But there comes a day when violence takes over and he beats up his girlfriend to within an inch of her life. He has to escape and his family comes in useful - his nannu gets him a berth on a filthy vessel which gets him to Sicily while the monsignor provides an entree to a university place and a Mafia family.

This more or less completes his education. From a latent one he becomes a fully-fledged Fascist. All this action is taking place in the late 20s and early 30s with Mussolini taking power in Rome.

Together with his side-kick Ras (or inspirer) he gets invited to Rome to become part of the Fascist elite. Life at the centre of the "Empire" makes him drunk with power along with opening doors to inaccessible women. Such as statuesque Helga, daughter of a Swedish mother or the man-eating Marchesa.

But the Fascists keep building up their ambitions. First comes the Abyssinian adventure and next the Spanish one - involvement in the civil war on the side of the Falange.

Together with Ras he landed in Algeciras in the deep south of the country and they were ordered to make their way to the north where the fighting was.

Conditions were primitive in the extreme and hard on all involved. The combatants, including raw recruits, were taken to Zaragoza and spread around the villages. There they camped in trenches facing the enemy on the opposing hillside. They also faced an infestation of lice and a worse one of rats.

The war ground to a stalemate and the combatants were due some R&R which took them to the relatively peaceful Burgos.

Ras had been injured and the two were ordered back to Rome. Rome had changed, the Germans were on top.

One day the protagonist was sent for and ordered back to Malta as part of the overall Italian spying effort. Here I must stop as I have already divulged too much of the story.

Written in rapid and colloquial English this story keeps you turning the pages until you get to the very end.

 


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