Book Review | Leli ta’ Ħaż-Żgħir ta’ Ġużé Ellul Mercer


I read another book in Maltese! This is a huge accomplishment for me, because you’re lucky if I read one book in Maltese in a year. But two?! That’s incredible!

All joking aside, I enjoyed this a lot more than I enjoyed reading ‘Inez Farrug’, for a lot of reasons.

First of all, this book had writing that was just more realistic and beautiful. There were moments were I was just sitting there absorbing the language that Ellul Mercer uses, enjoying his wordsmithing. He has a way with words in our language that makes it sound better than it actually is. I found a lot of quote-worthy moments in this book, as you will see below.

Secondly, the plot was incredibly well paced. I hate comparing books, especially when they come from two completely different times in literature’s history, but the difference between this book and ‘Inez Farrug’ was incredibly marked. This book had a plot that I could see develop, while the other book was just simple a very long wait for a very dry ending. While this book’s ending was far from happy – as I will explain later – there was still a plot that grew as the story went on.

Finally, I enjoyed seeing what passed off as scandalous in the 1930s. My father told me that when this book was first published, it caused a huge uproar because it was so controversial. I didn’t know what he meant while I was reading it, but now that I have, I can see what he means. While the topics the book deals with wouldn’t seem so bad today, they were a huge deal at the time.

So, without further ado…

The book focuses on Leli, a young man who’s loved by everyone in his little village. He’s smart, and his mother wants him to be a priest. He wants to read as many books as he can and marry the love of his life. He’s a simple boy with a simple life – he works for his money, he respects people, he likes to read, and he loves his girlfriend (and eventual wife). But, of course, Leli is very much a tragic hero.

One of Leli’s closest friends is an older gentleman who lends him the books that he reads. This older gentleman is the village outcast – he doesn’t believe in God or religion. Leli doesn’t let this stop them from being friends and respecting each other, but soon he start to see the man’s influence rub off onto Leli, who starts to see the world as the old man does. He soon stops believing in God as well, seeing no point in Religion and becoming more and more distant from the church. This, for the time, would have been an incredibly big deal – religion is still entrenched deeply in Malta’s culture; you can only imagine who deep it was in the 1930s.

Leli soon suffers through the throes of World War One with his family as they experience the loss of his older brother. His married life goes down the drain when he not only cheats on his wife, but also becomes abusive. He becomes a recluse, and eventually even descends into depression (though what they call it is an ‘illness of the mind’), which the village pastor claims is because he has become so distant from God. Leli ends the novel as a lonely old man, with no children, and a wife who is trying very hard to love him like she used to. He does not get his happy ending, by the end of the book, you don’t really feel he deserves one anyway.

My only criticism of this book was the fact that it seemed to imply that reading led to a loss of faith, which I disagree with. I am not a religious person (far from it), but I know quite a few people who are, who enjoy reading works on philosophy and psychology and all these other topics that sometimes contradict religion. They have retained their faith and are still highly intelligent people, so I don’t see why the book would suggest that something as joyful as reading – something that is supposed to give us knowledge – could lead to us losing touch with religion. Apart from that, however, the book is wonderfully written, wonderfully paced, and very worth the read.

Final rating: 4/5.

Buy it here!

Quotes I Liked:


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