Qormi between the wars
by Noel Grima
Charles Micallef St John: Suwed ulied il-lejl
It-tielet ktieb: Lunzjat
This is the third volume in Charles Micallef St John’s four volume saga of the Ceci family from Qormi.
The first two volumes, already reviewed on these pages, described the lives and times of a family living in 19th century Qormi.
The location was almost immaterial – it could have been any of the older Maltese villages. Life was lived as it had always been lived. It was invariably focused around the family, the big, wide, greater family eking out a livelihood in very difficult conditions mainly in farming.
Life then was the eternal sequence of seasons, of rites connected with birth and death, with the Church and faith providing the sole wider context of life, in times of joy as well as in the far more numerous times of sorrow.
Nevertheless, the way Mr Micallef St John structured the books is enchanting, leaving the reader turning page after page, many times with a smile on one’s face, enthralled with the description of a life that is no more, a life in the slow speed, a life of simpler truths and much love.
In the book under review, history, the history of the 20th century in Malta, breaks into this cosy cocoon.
The Ceci family has continued growing. We read no longer of Gorga’s and Lippu’s juvenile love: they are now older and their children have become of marriageable age.
However, the book begins with an intruder, Lunzjat, who we have already met in some confused chapters at the end of Book Two.
For the first chapters of this book, we see Lunzjat beginning her life on the doorstep of the nuns, adopted by the childless nuns, and then, suddenly, running away from them.
Suddenly, Lunzjat is married to Majsi, the protagonist of Book Two (thus explaining the last chapters of that book) and adopted, not without difficulties, into his large family.
Then, as I was saying, modern history erupts into Maltese village life.
World War I affected Malta by sending here thousands of young crippled, maimed, soldiers, brought here from the battles elsewhere, some to die, others to recuperate.
The immediate aftermath of that war brought about the 7 June 1917 riots, vividly described in this book since Majsi, (who else?), becomes one unwilling protagonist.
Immediately afterwards, Majsi becomes the village hero when he causes mayhem at the Corpus Christi procession in Qormi just because two English soldiers happened to be passing by and seemed to be smiling at the whole spectacle.
But mainly, the book is more about the developments within the wide Ceci family – the various vicissitudes of Majsi (later to rectify his name to Tumas) and Lunzjat, the repeated miscarriages a guilt-ridden Lunzjat goes through, and the curious relationship she has with Redent, who everyone thought was her grandfather, as well as the lives of Gorga’s sister, Lucija and her daughter Marija, etc.
Towards the end, just as Lunzjat tiptoed into the story at the end of Book Two, so does Yvonne waltzes in at the end of this book. The timing is about right: World War II is round the corner and cars have replaced carts. The family from deep Qormi is about to mix with the underside of the British presence in Malta. But that’s for Volume Four.
To conclude, I repeat the suggestion I had made in my earlier review of the first two volumes: this saga is made for those reading sessions on the radio for the afternoons.