It is not everyday you get to review, in advance of the actual publication, a true classic.
And yes, this book hits close to home. Not just because it talks about the place where I live, but also because I am a notorious aficionado of real life travel literature about Calabria. Now I might have found another text to add to my ever-growing collection, one that, I am sure, I will read again and again in the future.
The author, Edward Mallia, is a Maltese citizen patently enamored of the region where I happen to live, and it certainly shows. As a matter of fact this book is not “just” a book, but a love letter to my region.
It is always slightly unsettling looking at familiar features through another person’s eyes, but Mallia managed to retain a sense of “home” in his pictures. Maybe because, after more than 40 years spent documenting this region, does he feel at home here?
For sure, here is an author that knows my homeland way better than me, and that is saying something, believe me. Actually our paths, at least geographically if not at the same time, must have crossed more than once…who knows if we ever met, without knowing each other? He has traveled far and wide in this beautiful, sometimes irritating, land on every means of transportation: train, bus, on foot, even on a donkey! In doing so he had very many encounters with interesting people that he “religiously” narrates in the book – and at least one with a delicate stick insect while eating some tasty figs!
The end result is that his book reads like the epic and prolonged journey that it was (and still is, giving he continues to visit Calabria fairly regularly), “sprinkled” with a thousand fascinating details. But I also deem it invaluable reading for anyone who would like to travel here in Calabria, way more useful than the ubiquitous classic guidebook. More than a Baedeker, it reads like a modern Grand Tour account, something Normal Douglas or Arthur John Strutt could have jotted down.
«Here is an author that knows my homeland way better than me, and that is saying something»
But Mallia does not limit himself into talking only about natural scenery or travel. He also delves deep in what we might call anthropological aspects (I actually like to think he is an anthropologist at heart even more than a traveler), literature, history, tradition, folklore, etc. He might have managed to write not “just” a travel account, but a definitive essay about Calabria…
In conclusion, an exceedingly nice surprise. A book that I am quite confident it will become, in time, a classic of travel literature. Moreover, a book that is already pushing me into planning dozens of new excursions!
UPDATE: I got to meet Edward, and besides being a great author he is as well an exquisite person and generally a great guy!