by Karl Schembri

Our society is going through a period of decadence. We are losing our Christian values. Our traditions are giving way to bad foreign influence. From the Archbishop's pastoral letters to our Prime Minister's predictable speeches, the loss of our beloved values seems to be quite a tragedy - we mourn them on every occasion. Indeed, we are a nation of mourners of our forefathers' values. Given the chance we would turn our country into a museum of values to give an example to the rest of the world.

Enter Immanuel Mifsud with his mob of hooligans, radical chic characters, promiscuous young men and adulterous lovers, and this museum suddenly turns into a mirror identification parade. That is, we are asked to point at the suspects - our unacknowledged role models - only to admit our loyal following.

Mifsud's latest collection of short stories L-Istejjer Strambi ta' Sara Sue Sammut (Minima 2002) is, among other things, a tribute to our decadence. Stripped of the much-abused discourse on values and 'collective morality', Mifsud tells us some 'strange' stories which we discover are so strikingly familiar and yet somehow subversive.

Sara Sue Sammut tells us her stories written in the form of diary entries of her first-time experiences. Born in 1965 of a staunch Nationalist family, Sammut tells us of her childhood and adolescence when political polarisation affected Maltese everyday life. Her first trip abroad is to Catania, where her mother can buy loads of Mars and Pepsodent freely and smuggle them to Malta with a tip to the Customs officer. Working in a sausage factory she meets some communist activists and she quickly becomes their comrade. A crash course in the revolution leads her to spray graffiti (Divorce Now) on the walls of the Catholic Institute and to vandalise the cars of her bosses. Among the activists of the Communist Party she meets Philip Farrugia - the 'proletarian poet' and the first man she has 'full sex' with under the picture of Chairman Mao. But her subversive acts lead to their expulsion from the party: "We are not the Birgate Rosse," the party officials tell her.

Mifsud's forte is not just the subject matter but the language itself. Hooligans narrate stories of hatred and anger in the first person. Love messages exchanged on a furtive Internet chat are reproduced amid others calling for a sex chat and mobile phone adverts. A television presenter tells us how she got a Russian prostitute - the wife of a Kursk sailor - to talk about her tragedies and increase the programme's ratings. The dialogue between drug addicts and their peers is presented in direct speech. And what is so remarkable in all this is the realisation that beyond the rhetoric of values and decadence, this is a fully fledged language which can describe its own world, independently of the official, institutional discourse. It is the language of the eighties, of the so-called alienated young ravers, of the ecstasy generation, of the SMS vocabulary. In this book, definitely his best book of stories so far, Mifsud 'smuggles' deliberately, as in Maltese literature it is still considered a transgression which young authors like Mifsud are taking as their obvious starting point. It is a language which, at its best, mocks the moralising discourse that has come to dominate even Maltese literature itself. It subverts the notion of corruption and alienation by presenting us with characters who are 'happily corruptible', committed in their alienation, who seek pleasure by living this condition to the full. Whoever insists on speaking about the corruption of values is immediately faced with the inevitable question: Who corrupted whom? And then: who is benefiting from this corruption? Or rather : Who isn't? 

Sara Sue Sammut's stories take an unexpcted twist when she starts going out with (surprise, surprise !) Immanuel Mifsud himself, alias the author, only to dump him a few weeks later for the former communist now-turned bourgeois consultant to the Prime Minister in Castille: "The following day I went to meet Professor Philip Farrugia in his office in Castille. After bombarding him with insults and calling him bourgeois, we ended up having sex on his desk, this time under the picture of Eddie Fenech Adami."

The Malta Independent on Sunday, 22 December 2002