The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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A voice crying in the wilderness

Sunday, 5 November 2023, 14:06 Last update: about 9 months ago

‘L-Arja Xitwija’. Author: Alfred Massa. Publisher: Horizons / 2023. Pages: 258

Review by Godwin Ellul

In a review article by Edward L. Zammit of Sociology of the Maltese Islands, edited by Michael Briguglio and Maria Brown, Zammit states, "that if there is anything about Malta that strikes an observer, local or foreign, it is the rate of change that the country has undergone in recent years". Even a few years later, Professor Zammit's observation still holds true. Change has emerged as the primary topic of discussion and debate everywhere, even in Malta. In actuality, Herbert Ganado, Charles Tabone and Mario Vassallo's previous works that concentrated on change and continuity set the precedent for the work by Briguglio and Brown. Massa's work is an analogous endeavour from a different literary perspective to increase the group effort to strive in order to regulate and control the impact of modernisation on this tiny island.

The social observer might also enjoy the work of other social critics who used to be active outside of Malta. For instance, Charles Dickens in England effectively criticised Victorian-era economic, social and moral evils through fiction. In reality, his works helped bring about a number of significant societal reforms. The philosophers in France prepared the populace to oppose injustice by inspiring them with their revolutionary thoughts. Theodor W. Adorno, among other German writers, was deeply concerned with human suffering, particularly how contemporary societies affect human condition. Dostoevsky fought to advance social reforms in Russia after outlining social ills and inequities in his critique of socialism in the book Crime and Punishment.

Massa's worry is not about issues of social class, economic inequality or material struggles; rather, it is firmly founded in the deterioration of societal ideals or the failure of the established system of values, norms or aspirations. In essence, the new processes of Massa fit the description of a social critic. In this regard, he examines the sociological problems that the current social structure causes. Massa, however, differs from other social critics in that he does not offer answers to perceived issues in his writing instead, he quietly advocates for revolutionary change or consensual reform to address current matters.

Massa is so obsessed with the Maltese value system because he lived in a time when Malta was seen as a stronghold of values among European nations. When Malta joined the EU in 2004, it was anticipated that Malta would have a positive impact on the rest of European society in terms of values. Experience, however, suggests that the opposite has been true.

Three crucial components, in my opinion, go into the writing of a novel. What message is the author attempting to get across? How does the author plan (the strategy) to get that point across to the reader? And, finally, what writing style has the author adopted? Massa often favours subjects that are connected to global issues such as social change and major events that have occurred in many locations. This year, Horizons published L-Arja Xitwija, a novel by Massa that focuses on the Maltese value system. Each character in the book is purposefully chosen by the author to represent a particular time period and ideology. The new role that Maltese women have taken on in recent years is one of the primary contemporary signs of this modern trend. From defenders of social principles to active participants in the island's working populace.

The primary concerns Massa addresses in this work are those pertaining to the rising number of children living in orphanages, materialism, lust for power and sexual abuse both inside and outside of Church institutions, as well as infidelity and mixed marriages. The younger people in the book symbolise more modern schools of thinking, whereas Victoria represents the older class of society during a time when moral ideals were high. "Jaqaw għadkom tgħixu fi żmien il-ħaġar?" (p.179) For instance, the younger generations in the novel are  open to new ideas such as sexual relationships outside marriage, and emigration - one of the main factors that influences the process of modernisation on the island. Massa, like other authors and as in some of his previous works, makes use of sayings and constantly refers to climatic conditions to set the scene and tone for his work. For example, the same title of this work L-Arja Xitwija denotes bad and cold weather as well as a pessimistic attitude and mood to what is to come. "Kif nista' ma naqbilx miegħek? Raġunar tajjeb ħafna. Tidher li int ottimista, iżda jien nistqarr xi ftit pessimista minn qaddisi." (P.106).

Looking at the world now, it is clear that few people share Alfred Massa's perspective, making it a solitary one. Even while cultural customs take a while to vanish from social structures, the propensity for modernisation and the avarice that rules the world and this island are so strong that slowing down their pace is difficult. Without a question, the Church has lost much of its influence and dominance, and with it, the social and moral standards that were once the norm in Malta. Not all is lost as long as voices like Massa's are heard, and there is still a chance that his voice will not stay that lone, desert wail of lament.


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