Exporting Maltese culture
Many understandably fret about the future of the Maltese language. However, there are indications that, with the tender loving care of some dedicated people, Maltese literature can be exported as a genuine sample of Maltese culture. Authors of Maltese books dedicate their time to writing not because they hope to become rich from the sale of their publications but out of love to our heritage that is so well reflected in the national language.
The translations by Kristina Quintano of Trevor Zahra’s book Il-Ħajja Sigrieta tan-Nanna Ġenoveffa was given prominence in the literature festival Transacted Days held in Oslo. The National Book Council Malta was instrumental in bringing together Norwegian publishers with Maltese authors whose work could be of interest to foreign publication houses seeking to disseminate knowledge about minority cultures in Europe.
This venture is indeed a brave and challenging initiative by local authors, the National Book Council, translators and foreign publishers. The work involved in identifying a Maltese book that could appeal to foreign readers interested in learning more about Malta’s culture, translate it to a language that few locals master, finding a publisher interested in publishing it and, finally, sell it in a niche market of cultural enthusiasts must be daunting.
However, for most people who are passionate about promoting Maltese culture at its best, this is a labour of love that is rewarded not so much in financial terms but by the knowledge that aspects of Maltese culture are indeed of interest to those Europeans who want to learn more about minority cultures. Of course, many Maltese literary works have already been translated into English and Italian over the years. Francis Ebejer and Oliver Friggieri are just two fine examples.
There are other important local literary works, both modern and not so modern, that have a universal theme that can be appreciated by foreign readers if only they could have them in their language. Many Nordic people are fascinated by folklore and books about legends from foreign countries. The Jesuit author Ġużè Delia, for instance, has a most interesting collection of local legends that would certainly interest those seeking to learn more about Maltese folklore.
Ms Quintano is doing a fine job of translating some of the Maltese books into Norwegian. The revival in Europe of literature originating from countries other than the UK is a good motivator for this experiment of exporting local culture through the translation of Maltese books to continue. Of course, financial resources need to be found to make the dream of Maltese authors to see their books published in a foreign language a reality. The National Book Council is doing its part but it requires the support of the government to beef up the resources needed to see this cultural venture moving forward for years to come.
While cultural fragmentation is a reality in Europe as a result of the different historical experiences of various nations, bringing people together through a better understanding of diverse cultures is a positive development that deserves to be encouraged.
If only Malta could attract some positive attention through the wealth of its varied cultural realities rather than some recent notorious incidents tinged with hues of criminality, we would be seen in a much better light by other Europeans.
May we export more culture and less notoriety.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial