‘I remember seeing refugees in Birkirkara where I grew up’

The award-winning author picks Lina Brockdorff’s Sireni u Serenati
Lou Drofenik

Born and raised in Birkirkara, Lou Drofenik is a Maltese-Australian novelist who has won three National Book Council Awards, including one for her 2017 novel, The Confectioner’s Daughter. Here, she tells us how Lina Brockdorff’s Sireni u Serenati, published by Midsea Books in 2011, took her back to her childhood, when many people from the Three Cities became war refugees in their own country. 

My favourite book by another Maltese author: I read Lina Brockdorff ‘s Sireni u Serenati in Maltese when it came out. I read a great deal all the time, but I must say, this book stayed with me. 

It’s about: This book is about the author’s experiences during World War II, when as a nine-year-old her family became refugees in their own country.

The thing that most fascinates me about it is: I remember there were refugees in Birkirkara where I grew up; people who came from the Three Cities around the harbour. I remember well how we regarded them, how racist the neighbours’ comments were, how prejudiced the adults were against them even though they were Maltese like us. To read Lina’s book describing her family’s life from a refugee’s point of view was an eye-opener for me. 

My favourite quote from it is: Lina Brockdorff describes the people, the hunger, the daily events, and the terrors of war; all these through the eyes of a child. Though this book was written many years after the war finished, the images and the feelings she describes are still as fresh and poignant as if she had written them soon after the war ended. I loved the anecdotes about the German parachutes. They reminded me of the indestructible ropes Grandfather had from a parachute he had found, and the white shirts Mum sewed everyone. She reminded me of the nit comb made from a piece of aluminium from a German aeroplane and how much I dreaded that comb.

It’s helped shape my writing/thinking because: Lina Brockdorff’s Sereni u Serenati is still relevant today, it not only reminds us of the suffering of children when their country is at war, but it also shows us how difficult the life of refugees is and how every act of kindness towards them becomes a cherished memory.

I’m currently working on: I have just had Vincenzo of my Heart published by Horizons. It’s the story of Vincenzo Borg (Brared), a Karkariż like myself. What an amazing man he was! What a shame so very few people know his story. I loved researching his life and then writing about him.

For more Sunday Circle magazine cultural features read all about Decadence, Now. or about photographer Jacob Sammut.

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