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Frans Sammut: A light dims

Henry Frendo writes:

Frans Sammut’s sudden passing away came as a shock to those of us who have known him and followed his writings and other contributions over the years.

A representative of the post-war generation and a cultured, secular-minded man, Frans just about “launched” Klabb Kotba Maltin through his famous novel Il-Gaġġa in 1971. Probably the first Maltese language novel ever to be made into a film – by Mario Philip Azzopardi - Il-Gaġġa not only portrayed, typically, the individual struggling against society’s ills; it somehow also projected the independence-driven yearning for liberation from a cocoon, evocatively portrayed by a naked young man plunging headlong into the sea and swimming away into the horizon.

Frans was one of my regular columnists in that short-lived journalistic experiment, Il-Ħajja, at about the same time. Like practically all the other non-clerical columnists, he had promptly stopped writing in solidarity when I ceased to be the editor. That was a heady time, a new Spring, epitomised by the Moviment Qawmien Letterarju or indeed the formation of KKM, and then a change in government.

As Frans together with the late Charles Camilleri, Richard England and Peter Serracino Inglott, among others, fully agreed in our programme instalment on Malta’s self-confident post-Independence mood in that rudely interrupted TVM series L-Istorja Minn Wara l-Kwinti, the second half of the 1960s saw a renaissance in creative, pro-active output in Maltese literature, poetry as well as prose, no less than in painting, theatre, sculpture, music, even history. Frans himself was very much a part of that metamorphosis.

Warm and forthright, a worthy son of Ħaż-Żebbuġ, an ardent Francophile, and a potentially acid polemicist in his own right, a patriot, passionate as always, Frans had a command of English as much as of Maltese and he did not hold back any punches if he felt that he or someone else was being wronged.

I was with him in Inkontri on One TV only a few weeks before he passed away. I remember him agreeing articulately and pensively that unless Maltese history was properly taught in our schools we could hardly survive as a people, a nation. As has been well noted after his demise by other commentators and kindred spirits including Alfred Sant, Frans, an educationist and a former secretary of the Akkademja tal-Malti, was (like most of the better established writers of Maltese) very concerned at a Parliament-sanctioned committee’s recent decrees forcibly changing Maltese grammar and orthography (per eżempju henceforth to be written as one word, skont for skond, etc.) fearing that uncalled for changes would hurt Maltese as a literary language and as we had come to know and write it.

Our own personal association actually goes back a long time, having already spent some months in Perugia together in the late 1960s, and we retained a friendship ever since, whether consensual or critical. But his is a loss to the country as a whole. Frans Sammut was, and remains, one of our leading thought-provoking and less inhibited novelists, in that particular socio-psychological vein of his, and one who also tried his hand at some historical re-interpretation.

To his wife Catherine and his sons, my deepest condolences.

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