Years later when sorting through some boxes I had left in storage in Western Australia (having moved back to Canberra in 2009 to attend university), I came across the book and recalled the conversation between the husband and wife, immediately packed it in my bag. I don’t exactly remember when I finally got around to reading the book, Kappillian of Malta by Nicholas Monstarrat, but a part of me believes it was while living in Kaleen, so between 2013-16.
What I do remember is being completely captivated by Monstarrat's work; agreeing with John and his wife. The book begins with a traveller (I had always assumed Monsarrat himself but given its a work of fiction I am not certain) visiting the smaller island of Gozo, where he intercepts a procession in the streets. The traveller makes enquires with the locals and learns that it is the funeral of Father Salvador, a much loved and respected priest. The book goes on to tell the story of Father Salvador, a descendant of one of Malta’s original noble families, and his efforts during the war, where he conducted Mass and housed the displaced people of Malta within the Catacombs. For those who are unaware, Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the WWII, due to its strategically important location in the Mediterranean Sea, and then, a British colony and Royal Navy base (In fact, ‘The Siege of Malta’ which lasted for two years between June 1940 and November 1942, saw the German and Italian Air Forces conduct a total of 3,000 bombing raids, dropping 6,700 tons of bombs on the Grand Harbour area alone.)
Within the book, Father Salvador provides a series of six sermons during such raids, telling the story of Malta: the Neolithic man and the daring Phoenicians; St. Paul shipwrecked on Malta; the knights of St John (and their epic battle with the Turks); Napoleon; Lord Nelson; and Captain Ball, eventually the Islands first British Governor. It is a compelling read, that tells the history of Malta, within a historical account of another defining moment in Malta’s history, all the while reading like a novel. It leaves one feeling as if they know Malta; one review I have since read captured it perfectly: “readers will come away feeling as if they've walked every inch of two of the three Maltese islands; as if they know the rocks and shoals of the Grand Harbor of Valletta” (“Nooilforpacifists”. Review of The Kappillan of Malta [online]. 2015. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/82471.The_Kappillan_of_Malta).
Since reading the book I have recommended it to countless friends, handing over the worn softcover from person to person. Each time being reminded of the great tales of Maltese history, and the vivid images that have stuck in my head of the stunning Mediterranean islands. Fast forward to an evening mid last year, and while enjoying a beverage with a dear friend, I made mention of the desire to go somewhere 'exotic' as part of my (yearlong) thirtieth birthday celebrations. Naturally, Malta was an agreed location. So, this August I will be spending two weeks in Valetta and plan to immerse myself in the vast history, rich culture and, as of this morning, local politics.
I do often wonder what ever happened to John and his wife, and what other books they enjoyed.