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Oliver Friggieri: L-lstramb (The Turn of the Wheel)

Friggieri’s second novel is even shorter than his first and barely qualifies as a novel. The Maltese title translates as something like misfit, a more apt title. The story is about Baruch Sammut. At the start of the novel he is in some distress as his philosophy professor has recently died. Baruch runs to his grave, in the rain, crying. The professor (never named) had an influence on a small cadre of students, including Baruch, all of whom hung on his every word, to a great extent because he did not play the game but was sincere in his dealing with them. However, he became sick, possibly from cancer, as reference is made to his chain smoking, and died at a young age. Baruch remains devastated for some time even though, as we learn, he never actually spoke to the professor. Six months later, Baruch is still upset and decides to leave university and enter the seminary, to escape the isolation he feels. However, though he lives with his parents, he does not tell them but, rather, writes them a note. They are initially upset but finally understand, particularly his mother, and even throw a farewell party for him.

At the seminary, however, he has the same problems, as he does not seem to fit in there, either with his fellow seminarians, who chat to one another and joke, or with the beliefs of the institution. God was law and law was God, the spiritual father would say, no doubt. But Baruch could not believe that this was so. In his diary, he writes Law is against nature. God is, then, against nature. He does, however, find a fellow seminarian of similar views, Anton Borg. I feel I’m in jail, Anton says and, like Baruch, he feels that he does not fit in. They become friends but get into trouble, when they skip chapel. They even seem to have a homosexual relationship, which the authorities suspect but cannot prove. But, despite this friendship, Baruch still feels an outsider. He had hoped that behind the seminary walls, he would find refuge. Instead he found a sickening dampness inside a vast structure.

Baruch makes plans to escape and carries out his plans. Once outside, he meets a prostitute and starts a relationship with her. When he goes home, he is in serious trouble with his father and his response is to return to the prostitute. Even this does not help so he tries to kill himself but fails to even do that. The wheel he has turned and he is back where he started. It is a short book but Friggieri tells well his tale of a man who does not seem to fit in anywhere.

Publishing history

First published in 1980 by Gulf Publishers
First published in English in 1987 by Wilfion Books, Paisley
Translated by G. Falzon