Tuesday 3 March 2020

The Cassandra Curse - Fiorella De Maria

The Cassandra Curse
Fiorella De Maria
Allied Publications
Progress Press Co. Ltd.
ISBN 9789990930764

Last year I read 8 books by Fiorella. I started this one, but it was put down and not picked up for about 2 months. Once I picked it up again, I had a very hard time putting it down. To be honest I was rocked from the opening lines of this book.

“For those of us who were born in the wrong country, at the wrong time or under the wrong circumstances, to feel at home can never be a comforting feeling. We do not tell strangers to make themselves at home when we want them to feel secure, we do not expect them to feel at ease with there environment. For those of us who were meant never to belong nowhere, to be at home is to feel unsettled, to feel unsafe, to feel not quite welcome but not entirely rejected either.” 

Those words immediately echoed with me and my spirit. I felt like they had been written directly to my heart, and my experience. And maybe that is why I put the book down the first time, because it was hitting too close to home, too close to the heart! The description of the book is:

"In the last days before war engulfed the tiny Mediterranean island, the eldest son of an old Maltese family asked his father to bless his marriage and instead received his curse. At the turn of the new millennium, the last descendant of the family, Kristjana Falzon, returns to her native Malta with her English fiancé, determined to explain the destruction of her family to him through the events of that day.

Through the converging stories of a working class family from Sliema and the Sant'Angelos, whose ancestors were merchants and noblemen, they witness the experiences of men and women across three generations who endured displacement and poverty, a bitter wartime siege, the hopes and insecurities of the sixties and the emergence of an independent nation state with struggles of its own. Men and women such as Carmelina Buhagiar, a widow whose talent and courage held her family together, Alexandria Sant'Angelo, whose violent upbringing drove her into exile, and an innocent young priest unwittingly caught in the cross currents of social and political unrest..."

And though the story tells the tale fictional tale of a Maltese family and the curse upon the generations. The great grand daughter is telling the story to her husband to be. The story of her family. And as we read, we wonder if she is not dropping all the skeletons from the closet in order to see if her benedict will bolt. Or just to be able to have her whole history out in the open. But it is hard for her and often uncomfortable for him. The story is told as they wander around Malta, in and out of buildings, churches. 

The story may be written about a Maltese family, but it could just as easily have been written about either the Scottish or Irish sides of my family. Near the end of the book reflection on the story and the need to tell the story we are told:

“I am not so sure, and I know it is not my country, any more than England where divisions fester beneath a veneer of inclusiveness and the virtue of tolerance has morphed into a weapon to silence dissent. Better to be a stranger there than in a place that feels so familiar that it is impossible to bear it. I can take my leave of all of them: Edward Sant’Angelo, Loenardo, Antoni, Carmelina, Gorg Buhangiar, Lawrence, Sam/Salvatore, nanna Buhagiar, Luigi, Elisabeth, Rosaria, the whole array of them whom I have loved and hated and buried on the way. Who knows where they are now? I do not suppose it makes much difference, but those of us who remain will them no ill, not even the ugliest amongst them. We will all stand before God one day and probably when we least expect it, when there are no more places of escape left open to us. Let them all rest now in their far away graves, in America, in France, at the bottom of the sea. Let them all be at peace as those of us who remain behind cannot and will not allow ourselves to be.”

This book was deeply moving. Fiorella is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and one of my all time favorite Catholic novelists. This story is very well written. They characters are incredibly written. And the story spans generations and a generational curse. The Catholic tradition and faith weaves in and out of the family. Including priests and a man who leaves the priesthood. A convent school that provides shelter and protecting. And a family, maybe not that unlike your own. And a young woman coming to terms with her history and looking to her possible future.

An incredible read by a very gifted writer. If you can lay you hands on it, do give it a read.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan

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