Brace yourself ladies and gentlemen; we’re going on a feels trip.
Valletta has starred in many a famous writer’s book and that is no surprise, given how jaw-droppingly stunning it is. Perhaps, however, no author has painted a vivid picture of the city’s soul… the Beltin themselves.
Until Beltin: Stejjer minn Nies Minsija, a collection of anecdotes about the small community of characters who lived in the capital throughout the 80s and 90s.
Written by Ramona Depares and published by Merlin Publishers, this absolutely gorgeous book takes a grassroots approach that had us laughing, crying and throwing the occasional WTF around the office.
In this book, Depares, who until recently was Head of News at The Times, abandons the journalistic style her writings are known for to present a whimsical series of intimate snapshots into a lifestyle that is disappearing.
The stories are sometimes funny, often brutal and always uncompromisingly honest.
Depares’s style of no-holds-barred story-telling moves seamlessly from the innocence of a child eating Slush Puppies at il-Banjijiet to life on the rough streets, the political turmoil of the 1980s, make-out seshs at the Barrakka Gardens (go, girl!) and the darker aspects of the social problems that were rife in the city.
Do not expect white-washing and romanticising.
At the core of her writings is the poignant realisation that the gentrification of her native city means the eventual death of this small community of particular characters. And, with them, the death of part of our national identity.
Depares’s book will appeal to those who enjoy short, vivid anecdotes about Malta’s quirks and will score high on the list of unique stocking-fillers this Christmas. Don’t believe us? Here’s why.
1. It is everything Maltese between two covers.
And, despite the Beltin in the title, every self-respecting Maltese who has ever gazed at a pastizz and tazza te’ with fondness will want in on a piece of the action.
Chips bil-ħall, Slush Puppies, Sunday mornings at the monti, festi and political rivalry… Beltin: Stejjer Minn Nies Minsija brings it all to the table. Every story is a poignant celebration of all the weird and wonderful things that make us Malteasers.
You know all those things about Malta that piss us off? But that somehow remain untouchable and somehow bring a swell of unlikely patriotic pride to our chest? Beltin has them all.
I mean, we are all a little bit crazy on the rock. This book knows it and flaunts it with pride.
2. All the stories are totally relatable
And they could have happened to anyone who grew up in Malta.
Actually, they probably did happen to most of us and; as you’re reading, you will catch yourself nodding and calling the fam with an “il-ostra Becky, remember when Uncle Mario got totally wasted at the festa and..”
And that’s because the book is based on real-life stories that were lived by the writer herself or by those around her.
The stories include a shout-out to the real folk heroes of Valletta, people known and beloved by everyone, like carnival king il-Pampalun and violinist il-Puse’.
3. The book was one of the biggest hits at this year’s Malta Book Festival
During the festival, Malta’s most well-known writers and a whole host of newbies presented their new works to the public for the first time.
The festival is notoriously highly-competitive, as authors and publishers strive to make their work shine through a sea of high-quality publications.
Beltin: Stejjer Minn Nies Minsija turned out to be one the brightest stars. A Friday evening reading from the book that was held on the Merlin Publishers stand drew in the easily-distracted crowds and kept them there. The reading was punctuated by much laughter and applause, which is always a great sign.
It was also the best-selling non-children’s book published by Merlin Publishers during book festival, and the sixth best-selling of all Merlin’s genres.
4. Beltin is so very easy to read
And you don’t have to be a super-committed bookworm to enjoy this one.
It is written in the style of short anecdotes, bite-sized stories that are perfect for those of us who do not spend hours at a time reading and who want to know what happened next right now.
I mean, keeping up with the latest insta-stories and Lovin Malta headlines while finding the time to finish off a whole chunk of book is tough, right? I’m looking at you, Martina.
No such problem with Beltin. Five minutes is all it takes to read one story, so you can continue with the day’s demands while basking in the happy glow of a good anecdote.
Also, Beltin is written in the Maltese we use every day on the street. Which makes it a fun ride through and through.
5. It is gorgeously illustrated
The whole book features drawings by the wonderfully talented Moira Scicluna Zahra.
Her full colour drawings give an extra push to your imagination and make the stories come to life in front of your eyes.
Moira’s drawings are amazingly true to life, and you will immediately recognise a host of beloved Valletta personalities like legendary footballers Reggie Cini and Gilbert Agius. Not to mention Valletta’s most recognisable landmarks, from the old Putirjal to the statue of Queen Victoria.
The book comes in gorgeous, coffee-table format, a hardback that looks stunning lounging on the most stylish of coffee-tables.
So. Very. Instagrammable.
Both the stories and the illustrations include a myriad of other characters that are instantly-recognisable and others still that will remind you of your own family, neighbours and friends.
6. The author is as Beltija as they come, so you know this is legit
Born to a family of Beltin, she grew up in Valletta and was downing cheap shots in the każini long before post-work Aperol Spritz and Elderflower Gin became a thing.
Now, if that doesn’t give this book the strongest stamp of Beltija authenticity, I don’t know what does.
There’s something insanely comforting about writing this honest. It makes you want to curl up, forget the world outside and just let the stories reel you in.
7. It literally (and literary?) makes the perfect Christmas gift
Especially if you have relatives abroad who are missing their little corner of the Mediterranean.
The perfect fix of everything Maltese short of heading to the zuntier, it is super-convenient to pack and post and will give you instant brownie points with Auntie Therese and all the cousins in Australia who’d sell their soul for a pastizz tax-xema.
There, Christmas duties done without breaking the bank and with zero hassle. You’re welcome.
BONUS: Beltin was given the seal of approval by none other than Trevor Zahra
And we all know that he’s the ultimate godfather of Maltese storytelling. And hey, it was also co-funded by the National Book Fund for its contribution to Melitensia!
How’s that for the ultimate accolade?
You can buy the book directly by clicking here, dispatched to you with zero hassle.
Tag a City Lion who needs to know all the goss about Valletta!