by Louis J Scerri

Immanuel Mifsud is one of the new breed of Maltese authors who is seriously striving to extend the language as a literary tool while infusing a genuine, heartfelt social commentary which has for long marked serious literary production in the rest of the world.

Unlike many local authors, Mifsud is very much aware of what is happening outside our limited shores that blight our world-view.

It is, perhaps, simplistic to call Mifsud a 'new' writer. At the age of 31, with three other books to his credit, and a past in which he distinguished himself with notable theatrical productions and also with a genuine political commitment, Mifsud can claim his rightful place in Maltese literature.

It is, however, indicative of the state of local publishing that he does not seem able to find a publisher ready to risk his money and he is forced to do what so many young authors have to do: fork out their money on ventures that will very rarely repay them financially.

Il-Ktieb tal-Mahbubin Midruba is one such production. Consisting of 17 short stories (in two cases short long stories), the book is a deep social commentary on the state of this little island, which some of us persist in seeing as the fior del mondo.

Mifsud harbours no illusions. His foreword is emphatic in stating his disillusionment. Mifsud, who has got no colonial past in his blood (having been born three years after Malta obtained independence), sees the island reeling under the effects of a market economy, the evils of a soulless consumerism and the promotion of mediocrity as an almost official policy.

More than a literary author, Mifsud sees himself as a sociologist with literary abilites. He is the clinical observer of the conditions that are assailing Maltese society. As such, his short stories are not made for easy reading. They are stories that touch the reader, upset him and leave a mark on his soul.

Mifsud sees a Malta corrupted by money in which everybody seems to know the price of everything but fe are aware of the real cost of these vast changes that have been taking place at a heady rate around us.

Who are these wounded lovers the book is all about? It is nobody but us; "we who have many sins, but are afraid to do so"; "we who confess on the radio"; "we who were betrayed by those we loved"; "we who betrayed those who loved us". This is what Mifsud says in his blurb, which captures the spirit of the book.

Mifsud's stories range from short two-page narratives that often have a concentrated intensity to longer ones, in which the author carefully builds his mood, characters and plots.

'Fjuri Mxerrda fuq il-Bankina' is a short, keenly-observed snapshot of life in a typical village street, which is far removed from the innocence one traditionally associates with such life. Still, there is a contrast between the 'older' denizens and the 'new' generation where Mari has become Charmaine; where the well-dressed young boy is now pushed to study with the fear that he will fail 'the exam'; where the road gets shorter and shorter and the sun always gets further and further away.

The expectations of the younger generation are laid out in 'La Nikber', where, among other desiderata the youngster longs for "a red car like uncle Jason's", "a large house like aunt Josette and uncle Edmond's", "to be able to go to Paceville like my sister Tracy every Friday, every Saturday, and every Sunday", and "a speedboat like the one Jesmond who lives near us has".

Even our uneasy relationship with the environment comes under Mifsud's observant eye in 'Ahna nhobbu l-ambjent: f'erba' burdati differenti', while in 'Priscilla' he enters under the skin of an adolescent coming to terms with her sexuality and in the mid-part uses with telling effect the agony letter from which most young people seem to get their emotional education.

'Spag' is one of the longer short stories and one of the most satisfying. The author creates a convincing picture of the amorality that dominates so many of our yuppie-entrepreneurs, which comes complete with dirty weekends in Gozo and Russian whores.

Perhaps the most original format chosen is that of 'Id-Dnub li l-Kandidat ma jirdx iqerr' where Mifsud opts to tell the story in the form of a computer exchange 'dialogue'.

The brief two-line final 'story' entitled 'Epitaffju ta' mahbub midrub' perhaps tells it all, summing up the gloom the author sees all around him: Fallejt nghix, irnexxieli mmut.

The Sunday Times (Malta) 15 August 1999