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Through life and back

Alfred Massa: Nisġet il-Ħajja:a collection of short stories.
Horizons, 2016.

This is Alfred Massa’s second collection of short stories. This time there are 21 of them which, as the author himself asserts, have been written over the span of more than 40 years. Yet, the themes stand out in all their stark everyday reality as the eternal shortcomings of the human psyche: adultery, love for animals, the family, the super­natural, injustice, illness and disease, moral decadence and depravity, the attending problems of old age and a host of others. Personally, I believe it has been Massa’s intention all along to bring these shortcomings to the attention of today’s rat-race, in the hope of some sort of improvement in its ways of life.

The first novel, Il-Ħarba, is fundamentally a thrust in the ribs for those who ill-treat and/or don’t love animals; It-Tfajla wara t-Tieqa goes back to the 1940s, the message being that certain things do not change with the times.

L-Imqass has the Feast of the Annunciation as its backdrop, the story evolving around a normal Maltese family life. Meta Tkellem il-Lejl treats conjugal life, with its huge doses of ups and downs, particularly when things degenerate to the level of deceit, unfaithfulness and mere dissensions that invariably lead to the rocks. The story Riħa ta’ Krisantemi is a clear cri de coeur from the author, as he contemplates some of the worst traits that make men one of the most, if not the most, despicable creatures on earth: egotism, envy, marital unfaithfulness, cruelty, debauchery and the most heinous of murders, atrocities and brutality. In truth, death here is the redeeming factor, which will ultimately rid the world of all such scum; of course, after the harm will have been done.

The theme of Ġolinu is sexual abuse and the condemnation of abortion – a moral treatise at its best. In Kwadri, Massa paints a dreary picture of the extant situation in today’s chaotic world, where peace and quiet, serenity and joy are practically non-existent and relegated to just masks, under which crude restlessness and a painful reality lurk relentless. Here, Massa is essentially the poet who hopefully dreams on for better days.

The themes stand out in all their stark everyday reality as the eternal shortcomings of the human psyche

In Il-Pittura, the theme is the complexity of human nature and the inevitable destiny planned for each and every one of us.

Ir-Raġel li Tela’ mill-Baħar treats the regressive factors of progress, not without a hint of irony. But the whole story glows with colourful descriptions of the Maltese landscape.

In Silwett tax-Xjuħija Massa is the contemplator of the harsh reality of old age and what it purports: loneliness, illness, helplessness a failing memory and more. Here, the author is sad to a degree, and this story is the most tender of the whole collection. On the other hand, Laura is essentially gothic in nature and Massa probes very successfully into the egos of the characters he creates. Id-Dar tal-Iljuni is a chilling ghost story, while It-Tliet Uċuħ ta’ Isabella treats the various phases of human emotions, and how these can do or undo whatever may be good for an otherwise bearable and passable life.

In these stories Massa has projected a line not only of a number of situation novels, but also characters who might as well be acting their parts on stage. These stories are clean, very enjoyable to read and certainly devoid of the current practice of writers who try to attract attention by resorting to the obscene. Massa is always the moralist and he is forever keen on seeing the world a better place to live in. But, being also a poet, he knows very well that many are the questions one poses about life; but rare are the replies. And, if there are any, most of the time they are hardly satisfactory.

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