Tuesday, January 03, 2012

An interview with Lou Drofenik, re. CAST THE LONG SHADOW

Cast the Long Shadow (2011) is Lou Drofenik’s fourth novel

1.      Your novel Cast the Long Shadow is one of initiation and emancipation. How much truth is there in this?

When I reflect upon it yes, you are right this is a novel of initiation and eventual emancipation. I had a very clear picture of Charlie Scicluna growing up during the war years in Malta. A teenager who is quite lost, confused by what’s going on around him. The shock when he sees his neighbour burnt to death,  the deprivations of the war years, his father’s aggression, his own premonitions and  his mother’s death. Then there is his love for his cousin Angelina and what happens between them which wakes him up from a kind of total confusion. I also had a very clear picture of Edward Pisani growing up in a foster home, away from his family, the knowledge that his parents have actually received money for him. The anger and frustration he feels on the island and then his eventual migration. I feel that for Charlie and Edward migration freed them from a past which held them in bondage, gave them a new identity - a new life almost.

2.      The recurrent motive of the racing pigeons, Charlie Scicluna’s frequent dreams. Symbolism as one of the major narrative mechanisms you use in Cast the Long Shadow. How do you react to such a statement?

Many of our neighbours in Birkirkara where I grew up and many of the older migrants I met here, were deeply involved in raising and racing pigeons. For some it was more than a hobby, it took over their lives. For migrants, keeping pigeons was a link with their past, it was part of their culture, part almost of their Malteseness. They also had that knowledge which they brought with them and they used it. Thinking about your question perhaps for pigeon fanciers to see a pigeon soar high up in the sky and then return to its loft was a symbol of freedom and faithfulness. Yes perhaps Charlie’s pigeons were symbolic of what he yearned to do. As for his dreams they were part of his makeup. That’s how I saw his character forming and developing, he was a person who was gifted with dreams.

3.      Other narrative mechanisms are the appeal to the sense of smell in relation to domestic-familiar spaces, and of colour in relation to childhood. How important are these in your prose, also in relation to memory?

I think smells are so evocative! They take me straight into that place and time of memory and bring up visions clearer than if I video taped them. The distinctive smell of fig leaves on a hot day and I’m a little girl playing in my grandmother’s garden, the smell of burnt onions and I’m in a neighbour’s house. And colour too, coming from a place where the sea and sky of my childhood were so beautiful arriving here on a bleak August day with the grey sea beating under a leaden sky. Oh that was a sight which tore my heart apart! I think in writing, these images and smells come without knowing, they are there tied to the people who inhabit my work.

4.      It seems that you give great importance to space in relation to action in your novel. Why is this?

Do you mean the space here? Perhaps this is because one of the things which up to this day (after fifty years living in this country) still fills me with awe; is the space. The breadth of the sky, the long endless country roads, the immensity of the oceans, the never ending beaches. Space moves me and that perhaps is why it works itself in the characters’ lives and what they do.

5.      Family, the past, childhood and memory are  important elements. Do they only have a narrative function in the novel, or is there more to them?

No I think they are deeper than that. While  I was writing Cast the Long Shadow I slowly came to the realisation that Charlie and Anton were taking me inside their moral world. Their upbringing, very different from one another, impinged quite strongly into their migrant lives. The decisions they made were always based on the values they brought with them from their countries. Both Charlie and Anton, treated their families well and would do anything for them. They brought with them the value of family and though neither of them went to church they were quite moral persons.

6.      The writer’s starting point is biographical and personal, while his/her finishing point is universal. How much is this so in your case?

You are right. In Cast the Long Shadow the first page, although it is written in the third person  is personal. I actually wrote that when the second draft of the book was finished and I was reflecting on the story on one of my long walks. I could see quite clearly where the second half of the novel had come from, it had been there all the time lurking in my subconscious waiting for the right time to reveal itself. It seemed right to put it down at the start of the book, I think it not only gives the story a personal touch but a kind of look-ahead to what the story will have inside it.

7.      Action in your novel spans from 1939 to 1967; Malta just before the Second World War and during this conflict, and post-Independence. Is there a specific reason behind this choice?

No not really. Writing this book was like a dream, the characters came to me, I did not seek them out. That’s when the Scicluna family lived. Of course being a post war child myself the stories in Cast the Long Shadow must have been incubating inside my head for a very long time. It also happens to be a very  interesting time to write about, so much happened then, so many millions of stories still to be told.

8. Cast the Long Shadow also deals with a number of daily social problems in modern society. What is behind this: realism, moralism, simple description of the facts or more than that?

That’s a very interesting question! I think it’s realism. So many choices we have to make in our daily lives and some of them are so difficult and their repercussions are so long lasting. George Scicluna’s decision to look after Neville’s stolen goods almost killed him, Pawlina’s decision to be sterilised affected not only herself but the husband who loved her. Men and women have to make many hard decisions, no matter where they live and no matter what the hierarchies (be they religious or political) dictate.

9. The reader of Cast the Long Shadow notes that you insist on woman’s strength and determination, and on the other hand you tend to unveil man’s vulnerabilities. Why is this?

In this novel I was moved to write about male characters. I didn’t set out to unveil their vulnerabilities, on the contrary I wanted to find their moral strength. I didn’t want to write about male aggression, there is too much of that.  I was looking beyond that. I wanted to look at goodness. I wanted to see how  decent men coped with moral dilemmas. How would a man react when his wife died after a botched abortion? How would he raise his child through this heartbreak? How would another find it in his heart to forgive his wife for not telling him about her disease and what she did before she married him? How did Sam Scicluna find solace after he lost his family in one fell swoop? Each of these men found a way to cope with the situations in which they found themselves. Of course it wasn’t easy, but they did it. I really wanted to go inside their heads, find out what was inside their hearts.

10. Many of the sections are given the names of the characters you describe and develop in your novel. Why?

I think this is a way of sectioning the book and reminding myself who I’m writing about.

11.  Reconciliation with oneself and with others around us. How important is this in Cast the Long Shadow?

Yes I think this is an important theme in the book. I see Lily as having reconciled herself to her past and also Edward. I think the day he cried In Lily’s kitchen was an opening of his heart, leading to the time when he pours his story out to Ange, telling her what his parents had done to him. I think that’s when he forgave them.

12.One last question: can you describe or list the different phases during the process between the conception and the publication of Cast the Long Shadow?

This was a very enjoyable book to write and it only took me about six months to finish the first draft. I usually start writing at six in the morning till eleven, have a break for lunch, go for a walk and then do the dreaded housework. This book came to me when I was in Torquay (a beachside suburb)  with my daughter and her husband. There was a surfing carnival on, and I heard a a competitor with a Maltese name called out. I thought I can write a book about a Maltese man coming down here, living close to the ocean. I did a few drafts and didn’t like them. Then as if he was there waiting Charlie’s name came up. There were a few stories at the back of my mind I had heard from Maltese men about their war years in Malta, about coming out here, their settlement  years, their trials. I had lots of notes from my travels to Malta and Slovenia and going over them a story started to take shape. I finished a first draft and gave it to my editor. She loved it. I gave it to a second editor and she also said it was good. The manuscript won a first in the Northern Region Literary Awards and they published it. This book has done well, it has been read by book groups and individuals and the feedback from readers has been very positive.

(An interview by Patrick Sammut)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A poet from Russia

Dr. Adolf P. Shvedchikov, PhD, LittD, Russian scientist, poet and translator

Born May 11, 1937, Shakhty, Russia. Graduate 1960 Moscow State University, Senior scientific worker at the Institute of Chemical Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. Chief of Chemistry, Pulsatron Technology Corporation, Los Angeles, California, USA.

He published more than 150 scientific papers and above 500 poems in different International magazines of poetry in Russia, USA, Brazil, England, India, China, Korea, Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Romania, Albania, Cyprus, Malta and Australia. His poems have been translated
into many languages.

He is the member of the International Society of Poets, the World Congress of Poets, International Association of Writers and Artists, A.L.I.A.S. (Assiciazione Letteraria Italo-Australiana Scittori, Melbourn, Australia).

He is known also for his translation of English poetry ("150 English Sonnets of XVI-XIX Centuries", Moscow. 1992 and "William Shakespeare Sonnets." Moscow. 1996) as well as translation of many modern poets from Brazil, India, Italy, Greece, England, China, Japan and U.S.A. 

A selection of his poems:


Oh, let my soul sings the mystic song!
Look every day at yellow pages of time,
And watch how solemnly your song will climb,
How melodious is your song and strong!
I know for sure that it will live long
Bringing to people gladness, mirth and joy,
My wondrous soul, be happy and enjoy
When blithe song will be raised to the throne!

I feel the warmth of tender land,
Lying down on the velvet grass,
Gazing at the river's glass,
I'm happy, I'm in Wonderland!
Looking into smiling heaven,
I am a part of the passing clouds,
I am ready to cry aloud,
I've found my sheltered haven!


How carefree are early seventeenth,
That time when everyone may sing,
Everybody is queen and king,
The roses are pink, and grass is green!
My unforgettable seventeenth
In plain shirt, in shabby jeans...
The sparkling and alluring springs,
Life looks like glossy magazines!
Old age arrives, creating a scene,
Too much concern, too many arrears,
A dim of dreary twilight appears...
Where are you now, my seventeenth?

The poet is an artist, painting in his pleasure.
He doesn't need brushes or mute canvas,
He uses different instrument, alas,
The proper words commensurate with measure.
Epithets and metaphors are his treasure.
He paints upon an invisible canvas of mind,
His art may see by even the blind,
Obtaining a myriad of genuine pleasure!
And mixing joy with the severest pain,
Igniting your sensitive heart's fire,
He moves your wondrous imagination higher,
Inviting you into his illustrious reign!

How amusing is the kaleidoscope of your fantasy,
How graceful painting, if anyone may see,
How landless is your imagination's sea,
How voluptuous is the flight of fancy!
Everything gives pleasure and gets a breath,
You create your own sunset and sunrise,
You live in your painted paradise...
Otherwise you will be bored to death!


Perhaps you'll hear my forgotten song,
Maybe you'll shed also a silent tear...
Who knows when my name will disappear,
Fate is cruel, who will raise to the throne?
I don't know exactly, how long
My song will live and touch your ear,
Let God bless that magnificent year,
When you still hear my echoing song...


My poor flower, I still don't understand,
How do you live amid asphalt and stones,
Your life is fell of perpetual moans,
Your sprouts are among the tar and sand.
My poor flower, how can you stand,
Covered by the clouds of exhaust gas,
How do you live overstressed,
Thinking about mystical Wonderland!

Love is an endless stream,
Love is eerie like a ghost,
You may be guest or host,
Love is like an amazing dream!
Sometimes it burns, at times it gleams,
You cannot catch her with a net.
Alas! Nobody knows yet,
What real love exactly means...


If I could put my feelings into words,
If I could realize my dream,
If I could create my own Gulf Stream,
If I could strike a sensitive chord,
Then I would like to tell you,
That you are my biggest treasure,
I love you in the fullest measure,
I am all yours without residue!

I would like to stay with you,
Being your endless rolling wave,
My beloved, I'm ready to waive
>From old life and melt into you.
I would like to stay with you,
To protect you day and night,
Being your silent candlelight,
To light up everything anew.
I would like to stay with you,
To embrace you like a dream,
To spread like a whispering stream,
Tom please you like the morning dew.
I would like to stay with you,
To spend the rest of my life without fear,
I don't want to disappear,
I don't want to tell you adieu!


There are not appropriate words,
Your lips are dry, my throat is parched,
I cannot touch whom I loved so much,
Just vanished an emotional chord.
And suddenly a senseless sword
Cut every thread that tied us together,
With one stroke changed the weather,
Now is depleted our hard-won hoard!
There are not any appropriate words,
All our feelings melted like wax,
How rough is reality's axe,
When nothing strikes a sensitive chord...

How divine is dance of joy!
It looks like a perpetual cascade
Which never stops and never fades,
Have sensual pleasure and enjoy!
Feel the pulsation of thirsty lips,
Your heart beats quickly to and fro,
You are so happy with what's in store,
How alluring is love nectar's sips!

I would like to be the wind who seeks
Space in the unlimited bright sky,
Who likes nothing else, but to fly
Eternally for hours, days and weeks,
Who doesn't care about love and hate,
Who has neither friend nor foe,
Who only wanders to and fro,
Who cannot be trapped by any gate,
Who whispers around the birch tree,
Who grows still along the hill,
Who is gliding ghost with free will,
I would like to be the wind in eternal glee...


How many messages I tried to send to you,
And every message looked like a fresh green leaf,
I would like to tell about my joy and grief,
I used tender words with a special color hue.
Look at the rainbow of the beautiful dew
And understand how hard I wrought,
Evaluate how much I wrote,
How successful I tried to comfort you!
I did not send any message of mood.
All my green leaves became yellow.
They lay indifferently in a row,
I shed my tears before a tree I hewed.
You cannot imagine how I love you.
My non transmitted messages day and night
Emit in panic an intensive red light,
I know, it is silly, but I cannot send them anew.


Who may evaluate
The expanse of your poetical sea,
Who is able to calculate
How far are extended the roots of your tree?
Who ought to manipulate
Your feeling, your sense?
You are great poet, wait,
The admirers will burn incense!


Reject an old truth "from dust to dust".
We are not dust, we are human beings,
We adore myriad of different things,
We are not covered by ancient crust,
We are exactly unique living beings, trust!
We are something else, not slippery sand,
We are valuable part of magic Wonderland,
Provided with sense and ready to burst
Into tears,
We live without fears,
We speak and hear,
We are living beings, we are not dust!


I've gazed into the mirror of my soul,
I've tried to find there something new,
Some unusual color's hue,
But I found an ancient wall.
There was nothing to review,
I did not find anything sublime,
Why to spend in vain my time?
Game is over! Goodbye! Adieu!

I wish I were immortal wings,
To bring to you balmy smiling springs.
I wish I were a playful breeze,
To kiss you gently, to give you ease.
I wish I were your lurid stream,
To be your lover, your rosy dream.
I wish I were your summer song,
I'd wait your answer, but how long?
I wish I were your daylight,
But give me a chance for magic night!

I remember every glorious day
Of my splendid radiant youth,
When the color was never grey,
When we told to each other the truth!
I remember those shady trees,
I remember my little town,
I feel still that caressing breeze
Embracing me like a nightgown.
Those days remain in my heart,
Oh, my youth, my eternal song,
Everything was beautiful, smart,
Every day was attractive and long!

I am rolling along an endless way,
Trying to find my own place in this life,
Feeling the sharp edge of bloody knife,
Searching the welcome bay.
I am sick from the violence and decay,
I suffer from a web of lies,
I don't want my early demise,
I don't want to go astray.
I prefer a self-made law,
Where I have my eternal rest,
Where I fin d the quiet nest,
Near of ebb and flow...


The ocean depths of my immortal soul,
Who understands something known by God.
My secret soul, you are sometimes so odd,
You have no rest, every moment you stroll!
When my meek body is weary and weak,
When bitter sadness overfill my bowl,
You comfort me, my comprehensive soul,
You are enthralling, ardent, and unique!


I cannot promise to bring you sunny day,
I cannot promise to bring eternal spring,
I cannot promise to bring an expensive ring,
If you don't care, please choose another way.
Be sure only, I cannot betray,
I'll be devoted to you all the time,
If you like such tranquil moderate clime,
Then stay with me and don't go away!


I am fluttering bird soaring in the sky,
Bringing to you, an unknown soul,
The emerald ring and a priceless bowl
Filled with my love which is lasting and shy.
Tell me the truth, I don't know, why
I send to you my yearning song,
I never was an idol of an insatiable throng,
And I never haven reach an Olympic High.
I don't want to seduce you or to lie,
I came to you to share honestly my creed,
But I don't know, do you need
To hear my song. You only sigh.
You are busy, as everyone is,
We have no more time to hear each other,
You don't want to be my admirable brother...
How quickly you grow, incomprehension's abyss!

I look at the reddish straw of your hair...
You are beautiful girl, such a terrestrial creature,
I feel the warmth of the sun, the scent of spring air,
You've captures too much from generous nature!
I am gazing into the depths of your attractive eyes,
I never get tired looking at the goddess,
My heart is ready to burn in your fire,
You are unforgettable, you are gorgeous!
I kiss ecstatically your ripe cherries,
I drink the sweet wine of your excellent body.
You are undoubtedly a mysterious fairy,
The revived Galatea of eternal melody!

I fell in love at my fist sigh,
When I saw you on a summer day.
I still don't know how and why,
But I am grateful for that way.
I was the victim of the lust,
I craved to kiss your coral lips.
I tried to melt the ice of distrust,
I was ready to sail our merry ship!
When you whispered silently yes,
I was the happiest man in the world,
The fire of feelings, breast to breast,
Burned me instantly, I wasn't old!
I've heard in heaven, oh my Lord,
How soul's spirit passed through me.
I kissed you violently, I felt secrets stored,
Oh my night violet, the Deity!
We sank in a powerful tide of dreams,
So close to each other, face to face,
Our souls swam up again through gleams
Of feelings current with sweet embrace.
I will remember you, my dove
Gliding in a turquoise sky.
A fervent heart will follow you, my beloved,
I fell in love at my first sigh!

There is a fresh fragrance of the first kiss,
It is powerful flame that lights up your heart
With unspeakable feelings, a miraculous bliss,
How pleasant is really the Cupid's dart!
The gorgeous gaze of your beloved is shy,
Inviting lips are tremulous and wet.
Silver moonlight from the glimmering sky
Is weaving a glamorous attractive net.
The first kiss creates a magic vibration,
And carries the lovers into a sweet dream.
It opens for the soul a new sensation,
That only love may forever redeem.
It's the confluence of two fragrant blossoms
Toward the creation of new living being.
There is no more solitude. Bosom to bosom
A heavenly kingdom the first kiss will bring!

See also the following link: