Kummenti dwar l-awtur - 2

Charles, I have just finished reading your book and have hugely enjoyed it. It is so humane, so gentle in its telling, so engrossing. I felt as if I knew the characters from the beginning. The narration draws you in, and you find yourself caring so much for each of the characters. The turn of events are so natural that they feel very believable. I've always been fascinated with the possibilities facing our past students. What do they turn out to be, the bright ones, the challenged ones, the disadvantaged ones? You provide a window into the lives of the ones we tend to pass over or forget. We overlook the depth of goodness possible in all stratas of society. That is what I was left with....a feeling of goodness stemming mostly from the goodness and heart of the main character. Prosit. You certainly have reached an accomplished level in the art of story telling.

 

About the book FATEFUL ENCOUNTERS or THE BOOK OF BARABBAS

By Mary Brunet (Canada)

7 th April 2022 

 

A few weeks ago I was gifted this book by Casha Charles Carmel, a welcome change from the academic texts I have been reading of late. It tells a beautiful story located in Malta of characters that are complex yet relatable, perhaps also thanks to the ease the reader can walk through their life events, thoughts and feelings. This must be all due to the narrative style the author uses, switching so effortlessly from the first person to the narrator and allowing me to create a good balance, in my head, between the context and the psyche of the protagonists.

Barabbas won my heart instantly, perhaps because it reminded me of some students I came across in the early stages of my teaching career and who later ended up in prison and even worse, because of their upbringing, or lack of it. We all know a Liam Debono and I have often questioned why life could be so unfair with some people who just happen to be born in Ħamrun rather than Mensija. The book is anything but tragic, though. It speaks of relationships and how we can impact each others' lives, in a good way. Copious amounts of pathos and affection left me wanting for more, and I had to slow down my reading pace in the last chapter to make the pleasure last.

FATEFUL ENCOUNTERS or THE BOOK OF BARABBA

Translated by Martin Bugelli  - Midseabooks 2021

 

Review by Dr. Michelle Attard Tonna

 

“Every person holds a book just waiting to be written inside of him or her. It is a pity that so many of these stories remain untold and unburied with the person who lived them.” This is what one of the main characters in Charles Casha’s book “Fateful Encounters” wanted to avoid.

Published originally in Maltese as Il-Ktieb ta’ Barabba (2010), the book “Fateful Encounters” was ably translated by Martin Bugelli and published by Midsea Books. It is the story of three persons brought together by one casual – indeed, fateful – encounter in a hospital corridor.

Casha is no novice to Maltese literature. In addition to the successful Fra Mudest series, which continues to entertain children (and adults), Casha authored an excellent autobiography and several anthologies of short stories, including Stejjer veri li qatt ma’ ġraw and Mit-toroq tar-raħal. Those familiar with his work will be aware of his excellent narrative abilities.

This book is not Casha’s first work to be translated into English. Such initiatives are to be lauded and encouraged since they offer an opportunity for Maltese literature to be enjoyed in other languages (though it must be said, it should also be appreciated in its original language).

“Fateful Encounters” introduces us to Barabbas, the school dropout with a violent sex maniac for a father and a mother who could not stand the sight of him. Having been conceived in the context of violent, marital rape, Barabbas’ mother could not forget how he came into being. She named him Barabbas after the insurrectionist freed instead of Jesus Christ. It was a deliberate act of spite to punish the young child, despite having no control over the situation.

Barabbas had a hard life. He was shunned and abused – even sexually – and seemed to know no love. He fell head over heels in love with Rosey and their years of courtship were happy. However, this love was not reciprocated. Instead, an early and unplanned pregnancy trapped them both into a loveless marriage. He had no contact with his adult children.

An unknown terminal illness forces Barabbas to spend an extended stay in hospital. At the start of the book, it is clear that Barabbas is receiving palliative care. Yet, at the close of his life, Barabbas has a fortuitous encounter with someone he knew from his past.

Dwinu is a teacher and a writer. He had a relatively stable family life which allowed him to pursue his career and passions. Barabbas asks Dwinu whether he could write a book about his life. When Dwinu accepts, Barabbas proceeds to unburden himself and bare his soul.  It seems like a painful but almost cathartic exercise that Barabbas needs to undergo before he breathes his last.

The contrast between the two men is palpable. Dwinu himself reflects on this: “Barabbas was an intelligent man; however, he had not been given the opportunities and chances that we, his peers, had. We had been lucky to have loving and caring parents who had made all the sacrifices necessary to give us a better start in life. He, on the other hand, had never had any such luck.”

Though seemingly dissimilar, the two men are more alike than their respective life experiences may initially show. Both men seem to be burdened by all-pervading loneliness, both seem to have their hearts in the right place, and both seem to yearn for companionship.

Barabbas finds this briefly when he meets Rena, a prostitute with a heart of gold which then vanishes into thin air. This leaves Barabbas heartbroken. Nonetheless, Rena too had an arduous and torturous past. Her story also unfolds as the book progresses. Once again, we are reminded that, in life, things may not always be what they seem. Everyone has their story to tell.

As one delves into this book, many elements will strike the reader.

Casha creates multidimensional characters who come alive as the book progresses. Barabbas’ life experiences endow him with wisdom and insight which formal schooling could never give him. Despite the apparent normality of Dwinu’s life, this chance encounter gives him a new spring in his step – and, perhaps, a sense of purpose. More importantly, there is no sense of tragedy or despair regardless of Barabbas and Rena’s difficulties.

Casha weaves a nuanced, complex and well-rounded narrative of a life well-lived. He also impressively masters the art of description with a remarkable eye for detail. The settings are familiar, yet Casha points out details that we otherwise take for granted. This makes the book setting realistic and the characters relatable.

One must also admire the skill of the translator Martin Bugelli. It is no mean feat to translate a book written in Maltese and set in a very Maltese setting without losing this authenticity and diluting the author’s original voice.

Ultimately, this is what makes this book a worthy ambassador of contemporary Maltese writing in the English language.

 

28.XII.2021

Book Review – The Sunday Times of Malt

Fateful Encounters or The Book of Barabbas

André P. DeBattista