Book Review – The Kappillan of Malta
This book is sold as part of a series of ‘military classics’ which I think does the novel great disservice. The Kappillan of Malta is in fact a wonderful meandering historical novel which cleverly blends a no holds barred view of total war in the Mediterranean with the uplifting and spiritual story of an ordinary Maltese priest and Malta’s tumultuous history.
Plot in a Nutshell
Father Salvatore’s mother is Maltese aristocracy, his father was a British admiral. Despite this he is a simple parish priest working hard to build a church for his parishioners. During the second world war his plans are changed by the relentless bombardment of Malta. His church and most of his parish are destroyed on the first day of bombing. Undaunted his parishioners move into the Catacombs within the cliffs of Valetta and there suffer through terrible deprivations throughout the violent war. The Kappillan of Malta follows not only the Father but also Malta itself as the brave priest tells the stories of Malta’s history.
The Kappillan of Malta was written in 1973 by an aging author. At times this shows with slightly old-fashioned language and narrative voice. This is however a small criticism compared to all there is to love.
The novel tells the story of specific events on 6 days between 11 June 1940 to August 1942. As time progresses the situation becomes more dire and the suffering of the people more pronounced. The difficult narrative of life under extreme bombing and terrible rationing are interspersed with scenes from Malta’s history which Father Salvadore tells his flock at night in the caves.
Father Salvatore is an endearing protagonist. He is incredibly well rounded and through him and his circle of friends and family I really felt the painful reality of war on a terrified civilian population.
His family are key in helping flesh out the wider community and experience. His mother is aging but proud, whilst his sister is married to an unpleasant, self absorbed man who had been a vocal supporter of Italy. In the younger generation his teenage niece meets and falls for a British airman, one of hundreds of military men who occupy the island whilst his nephew dreams of joining the airforce. In his parish life goes on despite the terrible conditions and we see normal human interactions play out down in the catacombs with births and marriages being celebrated. The characters who Monserrat has drawn are wonderfully lifelike with both good and bad on display