A Land in the Storytelling Sea: A North American in Malta
There is no beginning or conclusion to the idea of Malta, perhaps the most exotic and oddly accessible island in the Mediterranean.
As Canadian writer, poet and musician Sheryl Loeffler, author of the just-released A LAND IN THE STORYTELLING SEA, discovered more than a dozen years ago, the entirety of water-bound land one can see from an airplane window offers only a tantalizing hint of its fabric of sensory impact, its exuberantly eccentric culture, its tangled politics and picturesque history.
Partly by accident, partly by intention, Loeffler chose one watershed year in which to distance herself from mostly predictable, hardworking Waterloo, Ontario, and become immersed in a land so strange, generous and seductive that she’d be compelled to write her way into understanding it.
"...an exquisitely crafted collection of images, poetry, reflections, anecdotes and delightful miscellaneous observations that magically transform the reader into a participant, even a fellow traveler."
This was no one-off experience. Malta has since drawn Loeffler and her husband, renowned Canadian organist Douglas Haas, back for extended visits year after year. The result of this long and loving artistic gestation is A LAND IN THE STORYTELLING SEA, an exquisitely crafted collection of images, poetry, reflections, anecdotes and delightful miscellaneous observations that magically transform the reader into a participant, even a fellow traveler.
Genuine travelers --- those who humbly embrace the ever-changing human journey in preference to the rapid consumption of distance, public space and souvenir shopping --- will immediately grasp the subtle and sometimes elusive power of A LAND IN THE STORYTELLING SEA. They won’t ask: Why can’t this just be a travel guide? Why can’t this just be a photography display, a poetry anthology, a memoir? The answer is both complex and simple; those would be other books, not this one.
While Loeffler’s deft mastery of individual genres can capture and caress the conscious mind, it’s her rich synthesis of color, rhythm, verse and prose, blending like musical counterpoint, that leaves an indelible imprint far below the surface. One’s memory revisits not only her pictures of primary-colored god-eyed fishing boats hugging the shore, but just as vividly her poetry of island life and moments, splashed with imagery as bright or textured as that seen through the camera lens.
Elsewhere amid the finely orchestrated pages of A LAND IN THE STORYTELLING SEA, the journeying imagination will encounter morsels of legend, snippets of local conversation, wafts of floral perfume, overheard street humor, and the inevitable collision of timeless simplicity with an insistent globalized now.
Nowhere, however, does Loeffler --- always the North American spiritually on loan to this generous culture --- ever presume to “explain” or authoritatively interpret Malta. It’s simply there, to receive, invite, even transform, but never to be assimilated or commodified. And that is how the island’s paradoxical fragility and strength are so exquisitely mirrored in this unique volume. A must-have for all literary travelers.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on July 18, 2014