Teresa

Malta Independent - - BOOKS -

Best­selling Aus­tralian au­thor, Deb­o­rah Abela, grew up lis­ten­ing to the story of how her fa­ther was born in a Val­letta shel­ter dur­ing one of the heav­i­est bomb­ing at­tacks on Malta in the Se­cond World War.

Af­ter the war, her fa­ther and his family left an im­pov­er­ished Malta and made the long jour­ney to Aus­tralia. How­ever, their new home wasn’t im­me­di­ately the heaven they thought it would be.

At the time Aus­tralia needed a big­ger pop­u­la­tion to build the na­tion: with only seven mil­lion peo­ple, the coun­try had to “pop­u­late or per­ish” and so the con­ti­nent cham­pi­oned mi­gra­tion; but this was also the time of the White Aus­tralia Pol­icy, which meant Aus­tralia wasn’t al­ways wel­com­ing of the darker, Mediter­ranean-skinned new ar­rivals – and Deb­o­rah’s Mal­tese family suf­fered a lot.

In­spired by her own family’s sur­vival, Abela wrote Teresa, the fic­tional story of a young girl and her par­ents who, af­ter the war set sail to Aus­tralia, leav­ing some of Teresa’s dear­est be­hind in Malta.

“It is a novel of courage, brav­ery and one very de­ter­mined lit­tle girl,” said Abela. “Be­cause, even though Aus­tralia had a lot to of­fer, ev­ery­thing felt strange and new. I based it on the story of my family, but I did a lot of re­search to de­ter­mine what life was like for the new set­tlers in Aus­tralia,” she said.

Teresa des­per­ately missed her family and friends in Malta, es­pe­cially when she started be­ing bul­lied for sim­ply be­ing dif­fer­ent: for not hav­ing her school lunch with Vegemite, for not speaking in the same ac­cent, for be­ing bet­ter at Maths than her school mates. But Teresa was a fighter. Just as she had sur­vived the war, she was de­ter­mined to make Aus­tralia her new home.

First pub­lished ear­lier this year in Aus­tralia by Scholas­tic, the book was an im­me­di­ate na­tion­wide suc­cess, ap­peal­ing both to the vast Mal­tese com­mu­ni­ties there and to other Aus­tralians in­trigued by what Malta had to en­dure dur­ing the war. Mer­lin Pub­lish­ers has now pub­lished the book in Mal­tese, trans­lated by award-win­ning chil­dren’s au­thors Leanne El­lul and Clare Az­zopardi. It is aimed at chil­dren nine years and over.

Abela was in Malta tour­ing schools, where she spoke about her family’s ex­pe­ri­ences and her writ­ing, and gen­er­ally mes­merised her young au­di­ences with the verve of a sea­soned sto­ry­teller.

Teresa was launched at the Pres­i­dent’s Palace in San Anton last week, upon in­vi­ta­tion of Her Ex­cel­lency Pres­i­dent Marie Louise Coleiro Preca her­self, who had first met the au­thor and ex­tended the in­vi­ta­tion dur­ing her state visit to Aus­tralia.

“Ev­ery child should read this book,” Pres­i­dent Coleiro Preca told a hun­dred school chil­dren at the launch. “It is a les­son in how we ought to wel­come peo­ple who es­cape from their home­land and come to our shores be­cause they want a bet­ter life for their chil­dren.”

Pub­lisher Chris Grup­petta said: “The Mal­tese post-war ex­o­dus to Aus­tralia is part of our na­tional lore, but the story as we hear it usu­ally stops once the mi­grants stepped on that boat. Teresa takes the story fur­ther, telling us about the hard­ships, but also the joy, of that long per­ilous sea jour­ney and of set­tling in on a new con­ti­nent, as far away from home as is ge­o­graph­i­cally pos­si­ble.”

Deb­o­rah Abela is not only a best­selling chil­dren’s au­thor in Aus­tralia, but also an am­bas­sador for Room to Read: an in­no­va­tive global non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that seeks to trans­form the lives of mil­lions of chil­dren in 10 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries namely Bangladesh, Cam­bo­dia, In­dia, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tan­za­nia, Viet­nam and Zam­bia.

“Ev­ery child has the right to an ed­u­ca­tion and to the joy of read­ing. By help­ing to ed­u­cate the world’s poor­est, we are not only cre­at­ing bet­ter com­mu­ni­ties, we are help­ing build a bet­ter, brighter world,” said Ms Abela.

‘Teresa’ is avail­able for sale from all book­shops or di­rectly on­line from www.mer­lin­pub­lish­ers.com

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