The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

The girl who became a crossroad of civilizations

Noel Grima Tuesday, 28 September 2021, 10:48 Last update: about 3 months ago

‘Everyone but Fajza’. Author: John P. Portelli. Translated by Irene Mangion. Publisher: Horizons / 2021. Pages: 153pp

Fajza, the protagonist of this story, begins the narrative by being shot and wounded in a rather disreputable area of Toronto, Canada. She later dies, though not of her wounds.

From that point onwards, we focus on the various persons involved in her life. Through them we unveil a whole geography of civilizations with Fajza, the protagonist, being the fulcrum of the whole skein and with Malta and Toronto being the sub-focus, so to speak.

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Fajza the person is a person of very few words but of great determination. The last-born child of three children, she was the most loved of them all.

Joe, her father, came from Malta. He was born next to St Dominic church in Birgu where his father was a big supporter of Dom Mintoff, then in the worst of his feud with the Church led by Archbishop Gonzi.

Then, since work was sparse and not well remunerated, he migrated to Canada where he integrated into the "Maltese2 parish of St Paul's.

He met the woman who later became his wife, Turkish-born of Kurdish origin, Rona. Her first husband was killed for political reasons and she fled to Canada. There, while working in a restaurant, she met Joe, who was a frequent client.

They fell in love and got married. Their married life lasted 34 years but then fell apart when Fajza, still a teenager, found out she was pregnant. The ensuing crisis saw the parents pressing for an early abortion but Fajza steadfastly refused. Joe refused to speak to his daughter.

The whole family was saved when a man, 20 years older than her, offered to marry her and bring up her child. Enter Sergio, a wealthy constructor from Catanzaro, Italy. His father had been killed maybe for Mafia reasons when Sergio was still a toddler. Sergio was good at business and Joe, Fajza's father, worked for him and was trusted by him. His first wife had died of cancer and one day, Joe, pitying him, invited him to dinner at his home. That was when Sergio saw Fajza for the first time and afterwards he could not get her out of his mind.

Then, years later, when Joe revealed the crisis caused by Fajza's pregnancy, Sergio came up with his unusual offer. To the surprise of many, Fajza accepted and Adalet, from an old Turkish word meaning "justice", her daughter, was born.

So far, the name of the man who had got her pregnant had not emerged and Fajza steadfastly refused to divulge it. Then, after the attempt on her life, it turns out to be Piero, who came from a conservative Maltese family from St Julian's, Malta, naturally very anti-Labour.

Yet, he was not to blame for not appearing on the scene, as his family had packed him off to Malta ostensibly to take care of an elderly relative who had cancer but in reality to avoid any further contact with Fajza.

Piero tried very hard to contact Fajza but her father had meanwhile isolated her when he was still trying to get her to have an abortion. Helping to keep Fajza and Piero apart was Safja, Fajza's sister who wanted Piero for herself. Safja deleted every message Piero sent and threw away his letters. When Piero came back from Malta, Fajza was already married to Sergio and Adalet was being brought up by them.

But in Malta Piero had a motorcycle accident. While recuperating, he met and fell in love with Serena, born in Madrid from a Spanish father and a Moroccan wife.

Serena followed Piero back to Canada but one day three burly Moroccan hoodlums burst into her office. What they tell her was to lead to the attempt on Fajza's life.

The Maltese version of this novel was shortlisted for the National Book Prize.

The author, a professor at the University of Toronto has authored, co-authored and co-edited 22 books including four bilingual collections of poems (one of which was reviewed on these pages), two collections of short stories and a novel. 


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