The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Book review: A Maltese hero – Censu Brared

Noel Grima Sunday, 21 May 2023, 08:35 Last update: about 2 years ago

'Vincenzo of My Heart'

Author: Lou Drofenik

Publisher@ Horizons Publications / 2023

Pages: 446


This has been a revelation for me - a writer previously unknown and a novel that is quite pleasant to read.

The authoress, Lou Drofenik, was born Lou Zammit. She is a Maltese-Australian novelist and academic and lives in Victoria, Australia.

According to Wikipedia, she was born in Birkirkara and her father was a stonemason. She completed her primary and secondary education in Malta and taught at the Siggiewi primary school before migrating to Australia in 1962.

She followed undergraduate and graduate degrees in education at La Trobe University and pursued her doctoral studies at the same university focusing on the effects of migration on the moral identity of Maltese migrant women in Australia. Since then, she has worked as an educator in the Australian Catholic primary school system.

Wikipedia says that she has published no less than eight novels so far but she lists 11 works in the first pages of this book. In many of her novels she has focused on the migrant experience, specifically in the Maltese-Australian context.

Her novels are Birds of Passage, In Search of Carmen Caruana, Of Cloves and Bitter Almonds, Cast the Long Shadow, Bushfire Summer, Beloved Convict, The Confectioner's Daughter, Love in the Time of the Inquisition, The Reluctant Healer, Echoes: Distant Voices, Distant Lives and Big Oak on Little Mountain.

Her work has been described as being notable for its engagement with questions of Maltese and migrant identity and has been praised for its engagement with female perspectives and experiences in distinction to the "predominantly patriarchal outlook" of much of the Maltese literary tradition.

She won the National Book Prize for best novel in 2017 with The Confectioner's Daughter, also published by Horizons.

The book being reviewed today is a departure from the previous books in that it is about Malta and not about Australia, and about a man and not about a woman, at least mainly.

It is about the Maltese hero, Censu Borg Brared, one of the leaders of the Maltese rebellion against the French and also reported to be the first to raise the Union Jack in Malta when the British were not yet the overlords of Malta.

It is more a novel than a historical study, although the author carried out research including some as yet unpublished theses.

This includes some details that may be novel to most readers, especially as regards Sir Alexander Ball. The novel portrays Ball as turning against Censu to the point of removing the power and popularity he accumulated during the Blockade. Maybe this was true but the received history speaks of the Maltese being huge fans of Ball, so much so that they gave him a golden sword in thanksgiving (who knows what became of it?) not to speak of the famous temple erected at the Lower Barrakka in Valletta.

Another detail that was novel to me is that the imperious statue of St Helen by Salvu Psaila that is carried around the streets of Birkirkara at festa time was modelled on Censu's sister (and paid by him).

Apart from all this, the book is an easy and pleasant read and a fitting tribute to one of the leaders of the Maltese rebellion against the French.

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