My new novel, set half in my native Malta and half in distant, alluring Nicaragua, tells the story of two people seeking the elusive Perfect Happiness. Indeed, the working title of the novel was just that, but, having decided it was too kitsch as a title, I dropped it in favour of a quote from the timelessly elegant W.H. Auden:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The novel – and this is a first for me – is partly set in my hometown of Hamrun. A working-class town with its fair share of crime and rowdiness. Working-class, I say this with emphasis: this is a very working-class, Socialist novel. It starts out in the 1980’s both in Malta and Nicaragua, during the rise of the mythical, poetic revolutionaries: the Sandinistas. The most noble revolutionaries in modern history, until, they too fell into ghastly totalitarianism typical of far-left regimes.
An undeniably political work the main thematic question that drives the novel is a thought-experiment. Can one truly be happy whilst not denying anyone else around him and her of their own happiness?
The perfect happiness… is it perfect because it can never happen again?
Alexander, the teenager from Hamrun, lives with his young, closeted brother and alcoholic mother. His father died of cancer after a life full of hard-work so both his wife and his son decide that life ought to be dedicated to pleasure. But his mother’s routine drunkenness and promiscuity begins effecting Alexander’s young brother, psychologically and even sexually, he realises one must be responsible for other’s happiness.
Meanwhile, halfway across the world…
My father wanted to take a gun and go fight with the Sandinistas, but my mother held him back: “Do you want your children to see you lying dead before them?”
Sofia Valencia, a farmer’s daughter, who is brought up during the Contra War, which was backed by Ronald Reagan and brought the working-class of Nicaragua to its knees. Sofia must grow up before her time. As the eldest daughter in her crippled family the responsibility of keeping her family alive falls on her. So she emigrates, reluctantly, vowing to devote herself to work work work. She emigrates to Malta and there, she meets burgeoning chef (who learnt his trade cooking exotic stolen pets) Alexander. The two teenagers, both of them crucified by the plight of their family, wanting nothing but happiness, start an affair that would force them into life-changing decisions beyond family and politics.
To desire her was to desire an uncompromising revolution against the tyranny of fate.
Writing this novel forced me to look into the life and surroundings I have always known. I make no attempt to glorify the under-classes, as Martin Amis and the like have ably done, but I cannot help have a soft spot for them, as they are the people I was raised around. As Pasolini believed, the greatest will to live left in the human race is found in the lower-classes. He was, as I hope this novel is, an aesthetic Socialist.
The writing varies from vulgar to elegiac. It is also a love letter to Nicaragua, a country with a brave, graceful people, laden with beauteous rainforests and beaches, and a history full of victory against the odds. It is a great tar on America’s CV – especially the Republican Party CV – that they invaded such a forward-looking revolutionary country. It was their Central American Vietnam. I set it in Nicaragua because I saw a lot of parallels between them and the people from my town. Even amidst poverty and harsh odds, they know how to live explosively! Grace under pressure.
We will die for what we’ve lived. We will both of us get the death we deserve.
The dense storyline includes moral rollercoasters from pederasty, assisted suicide, civil war, adultery, child poverty and cooking stolen African grey parrots… it is certainly profane Baroque and it was great fun writing it and I hope it is just as fun to read. And, just as in most of my novels, I deal with the theme I cannot get away from: in an indifferent purposeless universe, what purpose do people find in their life? Here I look at the purpose desired by the underprivileged and defiant class.
Small suggestion: read this novel whilst listening to the songs of the Sandinistas. And you might just get carried away.
Here is the link to the novel on Amazon. Reviews and feedback are fantastically appreciated.
Every single day of my life in Nicaragua, I woke up early. I had always been a morning person but living, as we did, on a perpetual holiday – with long interludes of strife in between the blissful days – I began waking up before Sofia was even stirring, go into our kitchen and its four dark walls, formica furniture and bare white walls, to scribble some words down on an old notebook. Nicaragua was the land of poets and volcanoes; its people were more verse-addicted than the temples and slums of India or the mountainous towns of Chile. Everyone was a poet in Nicaragua. And poets were regarded with as much esteem as revolutionaries. So, being the son of a poet, I could not help but blossom. Sofia, waking up an hour after me, would come into the kitchen, topless, in her tight boxer-underwear, make herself coffee, then stroll next to me, put her arms around my neck and read over me. I took her every gushing opinion with a pinch of biased salt – what I wouldn’t give to have my father read these verses! But, the enamoured angelita put her money where her dream-kissed mouth was.