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(Times of Malta review)
There should be no doubt that Trevor Żahra is one of our top storytellers in the Maltese language. Many generations of schoolchildren have grown up not only enchanted by the stories they have since passed on to their offspring, but are also committed adherents to the cause of the obvious utility of the vernacular even at a time when the world is fast moving towards one universal language.
Mr Żahra has the Midas touch. An active member of that aging breed of 1960s writers and poets, his books have become standard reading at various levels of education. However, his popularity as an author who can read the pulse of a nation and then quickly transmit it via his writing is testimony to a much wider readership span.
Penumbra, Mr Żahra’s latest collection of short stories, is further proof, if that were needed, of the ease and natural disposition he shows in reaching out to different audiences on the local market. The book actually places more gems on his undisputed crown.
Written in a style that captures you at the very first page, most of the stories are straightforward affairs that you are bound to have experienced at some time in your life. The author takes them out of your own life’s closet and expertly embellishes them with an art that is as obsessive as much as it is entrancing.
Trevor Żahra is not an author you can take for granted and that is saying something when you think how numerous and how widely circulated his publications have been during the past four decades. There is a sense of freshness to every story, backed up by a keen and powerful treatment of the language as it is spoken today and not as one would want it to be spoken from a literary perspective.
Penumbra is the pure, undiluted essence of a practical yet curious and restless mind. The author knows he wields a very effective and powerful weapon and is not disinclined to using it with the expected results. Here are 22 short stories that splutter out a whole conglomeration of characters and situations from everyday life, all seemingly done with a penchant for changing the warts into beauty spots and the weaknesses into harmless curiosities.
Mr Żahra is, in fact, a positive dynamo. Even in the worst situations, his men and women come out looking strong and brave when they need to be, and where solitude or misery prevail, the author is quick to take the side of the victims, lifting them gently to redemption into the hearts of his readers. The examples, as found in his long list of books, are too many to cite, but Penumbra further amplifies this benevolent trend.
Mr Żahra’s incredulous play with words, his everything-but-cruel cynicism, and the almost breathtaking pace of his writing make of this book another remarkable reading experience. Here at this moment in time, however, we have the author at his peak, still searching, still provoking his readers, still adventurous, still warm and outgoing as the day when he was meeting with friends and other up-and-coming writers of his generation to discuss, over a cheap lager, their first book, a long time ago.
Penumbra is another social document that is more fun and feeling rather than a mere academic exercise. Mr Żahra knows what he’s after – his readers. His readers know what they are after – his works. And here they both make a wondrous rendezvous.
– Charles Flores