FRANS SAMMUT: A MAN OF COURAGE by Alfred Sant

I always knew about Frans Sammut’s courage. I was impressed by it again these past two weeks and a half as I saw him face up to the cruel and implacable disease whose unexpected onset could only end in death.
Beyond that sense of courage, Frans had other human qualities which for his family and the wide circle of his friends, make his loss very difficult to bear. He was generous and loyal, provocative and wise, cultured and down to earth. He hated hypocrisy and was impatient with half truths, but there were moments when he could be subtle and despite appearances, very prudent. I have enjoyed his advice and company, off and on – mostly on, for over forty three years. Not to be able any more to phone him or e-mail or have a meal with him, while probing for his views and reactions, is going to be tough.

He will be missed too by Maltese society at large. His contribution to our literature, culture and national identity still need to be fully appreciated. Without doubt, Frans was among the foremost in the generation of new writers of the sixties who set out to modernize Maltese literary expression. As a founder movement of the Moviment Qawmien Letterarju he contributed to the organizational aspects of that revival. As a novelist and short story writer he showed how a way forward could happen through a transmutation of older writing strategies, hitched to the adoption of creative perspectives that for Malta would be wholly new.

But then his literary output did not stay tied to that starting point, marked by his novel Il-Gaġġa and less so Samuraj. His themes and judgements moved with the times, as he renewed and recalibrated his initial assessments. He did not become a captive of “the sixties”.

Throughout, a major strand in his creative production remained the theme of national identity and how to define it through a correctly modulated interaction between the past and its roots, and the present and its complexities. One can hardly wonder that two contemporaries from the past – Mikiel Anton Vassalli and Napoleon – became enduring subjects of his interests and research, even if their life action differed widely in scope and outreach.

For nationalism and modernisation were hidden and not so hidden issues that can be identified in his later novels and short stories, chief of which Paceville and his masterpiece on Vassalli’s life, Il-Ħolma ta’ Ħajtu. With courage, he published the latter in the SKS collection. Possibly because of that decision, this novel was given the cold shoulder by many who should know better. But Frans was very aware right through of the political implications arising from his literary and arstistic concerns, and was not afraid to acknowledge them openly.

This came in tandem with his unflinching commitment to the safeguarding of the Maltese language. He had strong ideas about how and where Maltese stood in the complex that defines the Maltese identity and refused to compromise about such views. Frequently I listened to his passionate presentation of those ideas, doing my best to be critical, and could only conclude that much of what he said made sense.

It is a great pity that he left us steeped in disappointment at how the Maltese language is becoming debased because of official, commercial and popular neglect and carelessness, not least in the adoption of new orthographical rules and of barbaric idioms.

***

Deep condolences go to Frans Sammut’s family for the big loss they have experienced. Their loss is shared by the nation at large.
 

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Comments (3)

Tarcisio Mifsud

- Wed 04-May-2011, 20:18

Have known Frans since we were in the primarty school at Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Both of us were of same age and I have a photograph of the 1953 class. We went to different private schools subsequenty, but we also remained very good friend.

In the last 2 years, Frans contributed in the production of programmes at St. Philip Band Club AD 1851 at Zebbug, first commemorating another Zebbug Author Joe. A. Grima and this year 50 years from the death of our National Poet - Dur Karm.

He was a perfectionist, wanting to ensure that the performers would give a professional display.

He will be missed, but will forever be remembered as another great Zebbug son who was so proud of his Zebbugi DNA.

May he rest in peace and may the Lord conform his wife and two sons.

mike turner

- Wed 04-May-2011, 17:56

Frans Sammut was a fine human, RIP my friend. We will include him in the prayers at the Anglican Cathedral

David Pace

- Wed 04-May-2011, 17:50

Naqbel hafna mas-sentimenti ta' Alfred Sant u nixtieq naghti l-kondoljanzi lill-familja Sammut. Jiena kbirt mal-kotba ta' Frans u ghaliha Il-Holma Maltija jibqa' r-rumanz ewlieni li juru kif inbniet l-identita' Maltija bl-izvilupp tal-lingwa ndigiena u l-kobor ta' Mikiel Anton Vassalli. Bhal Sammut zgur li ma jkun hawnx iehor. Insellimlu!

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