Frans Sammut dies: ‘Great loss for Maltese literature’
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Frans Sammut dies: ‘Great loss for Maltese literature’

Author, linguist and educator Frans Sammut, considered Malta’s prime novelist, has passed away, aged 66, marking “a great loss for Maltese literature”, the revival of which he had worked hard to secure.

His loss was particularly felt by his friends of the last 40 years, who have fond memories of the movement to revive Maltese literature, Moviment Qawmien Letterarju, which he co-founded.

Mr Sammut started out as one of the voices of the 1960s, determined to secure renewal for Maltese literature, and then proceeded to develop new themes, reflecting the changing times, according to former Labour Prime Minister Alfred Sant, who collaborated closely with him.

His main works, Il-Gaġġa which was adapted into a film directed by Mario Philip Azzopardi, Samuraj, Paceville, and most of all, Il-Ħolma Maltija, were an “enormous contribution to modern Maltese literature”, with their recurring theme that queried the meaning of a Maltese identity, he said.

The two shared “similar aspirations for a new vigorous literature in Maltese about contemporary society and both felt Malta and the Maltese should develop a national identity based on local characteristics, while being open to trends and lifestyles developing in Europe”.

Another of Mr Sammut’s concerns was the defence of the Maltese language against shoddy usage and the slipshod development of new grammatical and orthographical rules, Dr Sant said.

Between 1996 and 1998, under the Labour administration, Dr Sant had arranged to have him posted to Castille, where he served in the role of cultural attaché and was responsible for, among other things, the creation of an institution similar to the British Council, with the participation of Maltese immigrant communities abroad.

Mr Sammut was also involved in a project to make the Akkademja tal-Malti statutorily responsible, like the Academie Française, for the safeguarding of the Maltese language.

“He always showed commitment, intelligence and talent in the projects he embarked on,” Dr Sant said, recalling also Mr Sammut’s bravery, which he demonstrated again during his brief and final illness. “I will continue to remember him as a very good friend and a great colleague. His family’s great loss is also the nation’s,” the Labour MP said.For writer and literature professor at the university, Oliver Friggieri – also a great friend since the late 1960s, when they formed the movement – he was an “eminent novelist, deeply in love with the Maltese language that he handled with great expertise”.

Mr Sammut was a man of great culture, who loved life, Prof. Friggieri said, adding that he still had so much to contribute, but what he gave until his death was already “very remarkable”.

Albert Marshall’s friendship with Mr Sammut also goes back to the times of the movement, which heralded a new wave of literature and theatre in Malta.

“At 63, when you lose a close friend your age, you start thinking seriously about your own passing away,” said the writer, TV and theatre director.

“Maltese literature has lost one of the most important innovators of the Maltese novel,” Mr Marshall said.

Broadcaster Charles Xuereb also knew Mr Sammut from the 1960s when “we were both writing poetry”. They continued to share their work in the media and they were both Francophiles.

“I know him as a meticulous researcher with a great pen. He was so enthusiastic, to the point of almost being ferocious at times to get his message across, especially where it concerned Maltese patriotism.”Mr Sammut, who was from Żebbuġ, held all the historical characters of his hometown, including Mikiel Anton Vassalli, Dun Mikiel Scerri and Dun Karm, in very high esteem.

In fact, he had written extensively about “the father of the Maltese language” – Vassalli – bringing him back into the public eye. He had also edited his Lexicon.

“But I feel his loss in particular because of his dedication to rehabilitate the collective memory of the French in Malta in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte on whom he wrote a book, which was recently translated into French. I lost my partner in the promotion of French culture in Malta,” Mr Xuereb said.Mr Sammut, a regular commentator on timesofmalta.com, died in hospital. Condolences yesterday came in from the Żebbuġ mayor, who said his death was a “big loss for the town, for Malta and for whoever loved the Maltese tongue”.

The Labour and Nationalist Party and the southern region of the Local Councils Association also saluted the memory of Mr Sammut.

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