The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Strangers I’ll Never Forget

Tuesday, 25 January 2022, 11:12 Last update: about 5 months ago

Lee Ann Montanaro

Author: MJ Camilleri
Publisher: Ede Books, Malta, 2021
Pages: 236pp

Elements of the short story include the action, setting, characters and point of view. All are detailed in MJ Camilleri's debut book Strangers I'll Never Forget; a collection of 16 short stories recounting the author's memories of unforgettable strangers. This collection consists of first-hand non fiction narratives which tell memories of childhood and adolescence, work, daily routines, travels and even the post-pandemic.

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Camilleri's recollections in Strangers I'll Never Forget date as far back as 1991 and are set both locally and in countries like Greece and Zimbabwe. Several start in medias res and are followed by personally experienced accounts which are told through flashbacks or chronologically. Sometimes there is a story told within a story which then run parallel to one another. The characters are brought to life through engaging dialogues and Camilleri's interpretation of their physical appearance, thoughts and actions.

Every title in Camilleri's collection creates both anticipation and an immediate first impression of the individual story. After reading the title, the epigraph preceding each story makes both the context and content of each tale more inviting. There are colourful portraits of annual festivities like the Nadur Carnival or the Pamplona bull-fights that make what is possibly the unfamiliar to the average reader familiar. 'Man on the Tube' captures the Maltese living abroad experience while 'Chicken Lady', 'Paceville Guy' and 'Party Guest' arouse much curiosity about the outcome of the events in the story told.

Although the stories in Strangers I'll Never Forget do not have a moral, many are still relatable. As a raconteur Camilleri is a participant, observer and interpreter. Descriptive and sensuous imagery in stories like 'Walk to work' and 'Gozo Runner' give the reader a concrete image of the scenery. One can imagine actually living the experience of walking from the San Giljan village core to the heart of Gzira as well as running (and preparing for) a marathon in Gozo. Sure enough, Camilleri's settings are not limited to one specific type of scenery. His observations of the world and its various cultures serve as an eye-opener to the non-traveller too.

Whilst any potential reader may be skeptical about reading the memoirs of an 'unknown to the public' person (as opposed to a celebrity or public figure), he will indeed not be disappointed when reading Strangers I'll Never Forget. There is no rigid formula in Camilleri's story-telling technique as seen in his fluid prose and insightful observations of his surroundings. The image of the stranger in both the writer and the reader varies from one story to another. Some strangers are amusingly brought to life like a caricature as the tale revolves specifically around them and others contribute to the author's experience of an event or routine. What makes each stranger unforgettable is that they remain memorable to Camilleri due to their quirks, dialogue, appearance and behaviour. The role they play in each story gives an increased boost to the action. The geographical and social settings described also give the character portrayed further significance.

All in all, what emerges from the action within each story and Camilleri's interaction with these strangers are elements of human nature. Characteristics of the strangers provoke action, reaction and reflection. As the reader witnesses the events in different episodes that span about three decades, he too is often made to feel as if he was present due to their vivid construction. More so, what may appear to be mundane, frustrating or disastrous can still be pictured as comical. This no doubt is definitely the case in Strangers I'll Never Forget making it above all an entertaining read.


'Strangers I'll Never Forget' by MJ Camilleri was launched on 5th November 2021 at the Malta Book Festival. It is available in most local bookshops, or online at EdeBooks.eu or BDLBooks.com 


Lee Ann Montanaro is a writer and lecturer.


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