The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place

by Trezza Azzopardi


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My father has stopped for now, although, like most of the other Maltese, he won't settle in the city— he can't escape the salt-scent of the docks.

Tiger Bay, Cardiff, 1948. Frank Gauci steps off the Callisto into the coldest winter ever, clutching a cardboard suitcase. It's all he has, until he finds a ruby ring, Joe Medora, and Mary.

When Frankie and his best friend Salvatore open the doors of the Moonlight Café, life seems good: downstairs there is sweet music, hot food, beautiful girls: and upstairs, there is gambling. Stick or Twist. It's Frankie's call. But luck becomes a stranger to Frankie. With a mass of debts, five daughters, and another child on the way, he turns to the card table one last time. He gambles, and he prays: this time, it has to be a boy.

It's a boy! cries Salvatore. Bambino, Frankie! And, my father, who is Frankie Bambina to his friends, poor unlucky Frank to have so many daughters, twists in reckless joy...

And so begins the chain of events which will haunt his family for forty years.

Through the eyes of Dolores, the Gaucis' youngest child, Trezza Azzopardi reveals a world rarely seen in fiction—the Cardiff underworld of the sixties. In prose that is sensitive and utterly compelling we discover the cafés and bars, the crumbling estates, the gaming rooms—and the secrets that destroy a family.

About the Author:
Trezza Azzopardi was born in Cardiff and live in Norwich. The Hiding Place is her first novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780783894836
Publisher: Cengage Gale
Publication date: 06/28/2001
Edition description: LARGEPRINT
Pages: 360

Read an Excerpt

The Hiding Place

By Trezza Azzopardi

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Trezza Azzopardi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-3859-4

Chapter One

Six-to-four the field, six-to-one bar!

Shouting the odds, the TV and my father, low down on the living room floor.

C'mon, baby! he yells, beating his flank with his fist. With the betting slip in his teeth, he gallops down the last furlong of the rug, to the home straight of the lino. Words bolt from the side of his mouth: Yankee Piggott Photo-finish. I don't understand any of it: I think my father's English leaves a lot to be desired.

He curses: Jesus Christ.

At the end of the race, his face is very flushed, an inch from the set. He's watching the lines and dots as if Barney's Boy will suddenly leap through the screen. Ripping pink shreds of paper from his mouth, my father tears up his slip and spits the remains on the rug. Then he starts in on the Sporting Life, holding it out in front of him, rending it between his fists until he's tearing air. I know at these moments that he would tear me too, for the slightest thing, and I crawl ever so slowly behind the couch, until he's put on his donkey jacket and slammed the back door.

He isn't just like this about horses. My father will gamble on anything that moves. He won't do Bingo or fruit machines or snow on Christmas Day, but horses and pontoon and poker and dogs. My father's love isChance. Look at that roulette wheel! Bet red, bet black, bet red, bet black. If he could place his bet Under Starter's Orders he would still change his mind over every fence. The Form makes no difference, the words don't make sense, and the odds at Joe Coral have no bearing on his stake.

He has always been this way, according to my mother. She made her own bet on him, in November 1948, in the church of St Mark's, in a white lace gown.

* * *

This is what happens just before I am born: it's 1960. My parents, Frankie and Mary, have five beautiful daughters, and a half-share in a cafe overlooking Cardiff docks. Salvatore Capanone, my father's oldest friend, owns the other half. The sailors on shore leave pour in through the red door to eat, and find a girl. My family lives above the cafe. They have two rooms; one long one, divided into bedroom and lounge by a thick toile curtain depicting scenes of the French aristocracy, and an airless back room which they call The Pit, because you have to climb down into it. My sisters inhabit The Pit, and my father has put a gate up in the doorway to stop Luca, who's only two years old, from climbing up the steps and falling down again. Luca swings her fat leg over the gate whenever my mother isn't looking, and falls from that instead.

There is a third room, one more flight up. It has a square wooden table covered with worn green felt, and four vinyl-backed chairs stacked one upon the other. In the far corner is a window where a blind conceals the day. My mother never goes into this room; it's not hers to use.

There is no kitchen. Every morning my mother trudges downstairs to the cafe to fetch food for my sisters to eat, which they do, sitting in a long line on the couch and watching the Test Card on the television in the corner, while she moves her washing from surface to surface, doing her impression of someone who is tidy. My father's old sea chest is the only storage space, filled with baby clothes. I'll be wearing them soon. My mother knows this, but she doesn't want to air the clothes because my father doesn't. Also, she's determined that I'm a boy this time, and so a lot of the shawls and bonnets and little woollen coats will be redundant, being mainly pink.

Celesta, who's eleven going on forty, is helping to get Marina and Rose ready for school. They look like two turnips in their cream-coloured balaclava hats, and Celesta doesn't want to be seen with them. She wears a straw boater with a chocolate-brown ribbon, bought for when she goes to Our Lady's Convent School. She won't start there until next term, by which time the boater will have a distinctly weathered look, but at the moment she wears it all the time, even in bed. Fran has just begun at primary school. She draws angry pictures of bonfires using three crayons at a time. My mother pays no attention to this, having to deal with Luca now, and the prospect of me later.

When the other children leave, my mother squashes Luca into her hip and goes downstairs to the cafe. She unbolts the front door, slipping off the heavy chain which swings against the wood, and paces the narrow aisle between the tables. At the furthest end, where the daylight doesn't stretch, are two booths and a long counter. Close to its brass lip sit a single smeared tumbler and a half-empty bottle of Advocaat. The air is sweetish here. A sleeveless Peggy Lee is propped against the gramophone in the corner - Salvatore has had a late night.

My mother eases Luca into her high chair, and as soon as she is down, with the rush of cold around her thigh, she screams. She won't stop until she has something sticky on bread, or until my father comes back from the market and swings her in his arms. Luca can't understand why she isn't allowed to practise running. Salvatore used to let her, when my mother had to go and fetch Fran, or hunt the Bookies for my father.

Frankie and Salvatore are a strange brace. My father is smooth and lean, well cut in his well-cut suit. His partner is softer, larger, with milky hands and brimming eyes. Every morning Salvatore puts a clean white handkerchief in the pocket of his apron to deal with the tears which will flow through the day. He blames the heat of the kitchen, rather than his childless wife or the plaintive tones of Mario Lanza. The air is full of music when Salvatore cooks. He plays Dino and Sammy, endless Sinatra, and his favourite, Louis Prima, who reminds him of somewhere not quite like home. The records are stacked in the plate rack on top of the counter, the plates haphazardly stowed beneath. Salvatore glides through the days and nights, dusting flour into the grooves of Julie London, wiping her clean with his napkin. And then he wipes his eyes.

There is a delicate division of labour in this business. Salvatore is a better cook than Frankie, for whom the flames of the kitchen are too much like his vision of Hell. So while Salvatore cuts his fingers, brands the soft flesh of his forearm on the searing stove, and sings and cries, Frankie wears his suit and does things with money upstairs. But Salvatore likes it this way, he gets to see people.

* * *

At first, convinced that it would tempt the passers-by, Salvatore made stews and bread and almond cakes dusted with sugar. He wedged the red door open with a bar stool, wafting the smell of baking out into the street with his tea-towel. He wrote a sign, DELICIOUS FOOD, in a careful hand, and tied it with parcel string around the rusted frame of the awning outside. But Mack the Knife spilt out on to the pavement, upsetting the barber shop owner next door, the sign ran in the rain, and soon Salvatore brought the stool back to the bar. The pigeons in the yard grew fat on unbought food.

Never mind, said my mother. It takes time.

Now he cooks for the sailors, who want egg and chips or bacon in starchy white rolls, and the cafe is busy. Sailors bring in girls, and girls attract trade. Salvatore fries everything in the flat black pan on the stove, his thinning hair stuck to his head with steam. The combed strands come unglued throughout the day, falling one by one in lank array over his left ear. He pretends to be a widower so that the night girls will pity him. In fact he is married to Carlotta, who is respectable, and will not enter The Port of Call, our cafe. Or as Carlotta calls it in her broken English, That Den-o-Sin.

* * *

Salvatore loves my mother and my father and my sisters. He is part of the family. And he will love me too, when I am born. Until then, he has to make do with Luca, who shrieks from her high chair the moment my mother's back is turned. Salvatore watches from a safe distance as Luca's arms jolt up and down in an urgent plea to be lifted. He would free her, but he daren't. The last time he did, she ran like a river to the end of the cafe and caught her head on the edge of a table. She stared at it, astonished, while her forehead bulged and split. The knock held her silent for two days, so silent, my mother thought she was damaged: it was the only time Luca was quiet.

Now when my mother has to go out, she traps Luca in The Pit with soft toys to keep her happy for the five minutes she thinks she will be away. Luca throws them at the furthest wall, screaming like a bomb.

In search of my father, my mother is blunt and shaming. She no longer has the time to be discreet.

Have you seen Frankie? Len the Bookie? In The Bute, are they? Righto.

She tracks down her husband, to the arcade, the coffee house, the back room of the pub. When she finds him, she is vocal. My father complains.

This is business, Mary. Keep out of it.

The other men look down and grin into their shirts. And when my father does return, my mother points to Luca's head.

That's down to you, that is.

Sufficiently shamed, or just tired of losing. Frankie starts a clean sheet. He stops betting; he has finished with it for good. But when my mother tells him about me (at six months the evidence is mounting), he takes the money he's accumulated through not gambling and opens a card school in the top room of the cafe. He wins, and wins. And suddenly I am luck personified.

We'll call him Fortuno, he says, rubbing my mother's stomach as if she's harbouring the Golden Egg. My mother has other ideas.

* * *

In the top room, all four chairs are occupied. There is a haze of cheroots, a sweat of onions, the stink of eggs in oil. My father has staked everything on the winning of the game. Away in the infirmary, I'm wailing at the midwife as Frankie decides to Twist. My mother is straining with the labour of prayer. Over and over.

Oh God, let it be a boy.

When the midwife pulls me out, she conceals me. I am shunted from scales to blanket to anteroom. She closes the door on my mother.

If you have to tell her anything, tell her it's a boy, says the midwife to the nurse.

Salvatore's wife Carlotta, waiting in the corridor with her big black handbag poised on the bulge of her stomach, catches just this one phrase - tell her it's a boy - and makes a phone-call to the cafe.

Salvatore is watching the card game from the doorway upstairs, peeping through the curtain of beads which hangs from the lintel. They cascade from his shoulders like Madonna tears. He doesn't hear the telephone; his mind is in anguish for the game he's not allowed to play. His eyes are fixed on the Brylcreem glint which crowns my father's head. Salvatore's right hand rests stiff across his heart, his left holds a spatula, which oozes slow drips on to the red linoleum floor. He should be downstairs making greasy meals for the thin night girls, but Salvatore cannot concentrate on bacon and eggs when his business is at stake.

* * *

Salvatore likes his partner Frankie, even though he's lazy and not always dependable, and he adores the night girls downstairs. The young ones perch on the stools, their bouffant heads nodding in time to the music on the gramophone; they are stiff-lacquered, clean-scented. The older ones smile, now and then flinging an arm across the booths to display their latest Solitaires. Or they sit in silence. They draw their wet fingers round the rim of their glasses, in an effort to make the last rum last.

Rita, Sophia, Gina. Salvatore recites the girls' names in his sing-song voice. These women are really Irene and Lizzie and Pat. They close around the green metal ashtrays, depressing the buttons with their jewelled hands, watching the debris swirl into the hidden bowl below. When they do leave, the imprints of their bored thighs remain a while upon the shiny leatherette. They never say thank you and they never look back. Salvatore always forgives them. He wipes his hands down the breast of his apron, and sings through the night, while Frankie gambles in the room above his head.

* * *

Tonight, Salvatore wants to watch. Here we have my father, the giant Martineau, Ilya the Pole, and crooked Joe Medora. This pack of men is busy.

Sal ... telephone, says Joe, not looking up.

Salvatore rolls reluctantly downstairs.

Joe Medora wears a slouch hat, a silk scarf anchored at the neck, a Savile Row suit. He's an archetypal villain who makes sure he looks the part. He angles his cigar into the side of his lipless mouth, staring over his Hand. He's seen all the films; no gesture is wasted. He is patient.

It's my father's move. Jack of Hearts, Five of Clubs, Four - winking - Diamonds.

It's a boy! cries Salvatore, beating back upstairs. Bambino, Frankie!

And my father, who is Frankie Bambina to his friends, poor unlucky Frank to have so many daughters, Twists in reckless joy, and loses the cafe, the shoebox under the floorboards full with big money, his own father's ruby ring, and my mother's white lace gown, to Joe Medora.

At least I have a son, he thinks, as he rolls the ring across the worn green felt.

* * *

My father stands above my cot with a clenched fist and a stiff smile. He rubs his left hand along the lining of his pocket, feeling the absence of his father s ring and the nakedness of losing.

At the end of the ward, Salvatore's face appears in the porthole of the swing door. Carlotta's face fills the other, and for a moment they stare separately at the rows and rows of beds and cots. Carlotta lets out a shout, Mary! Frankie!, and sweeps towards my parents. Salvatore raises his hand in salute, but takes his time, pausing to exchange greetings with the other mothers.

A fine baby, Missus!

What a beauty! Boy or girl?

Twins? How lucky!

There aren't enough babies in the ward for Salvatore, perhaps not in the world. He bends over each one with his big smile and his hands clasped at his back.

Carlotta spreads herself on the chair next to my mother's bed and rummages deep into her bag. She makes small talk, not trusting herself to mention me, or the cafe, or the future. My father stabs his teeth with a broken matchstick he's found in the other pocket of his trousers, and sucks air, and says nothing. No one looks at me. Then Salvatore approaches the foot of my mother's bed and opens his arms wide to embrace my father. Both men lean into each other, quietly choking. Carlotta produces a dented red box from her bag, prises off the lid, and offers my mother a chocolate.

Please have one, Mary.


Excerpted from The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi Copyright © 2000 by Trezza Azzopardi. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Hiding Place 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
jjnaaucoin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
LOVED this book. Very much like Angela's Ashes and The Glass House. So happy I took a chance on it. Like the books listed it isn't always a pleasant read but a look back at what makes a person who they are and their inner struggles.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to start by saying I would love to meet William Gedney just to ask him about the photograph on the cover of The Hiding Place. I guess Francine Kass (who designed the cover) would be more appropriate to ask of these questions. Nevertheless, here are the things I would ask of either:The girls are in the kitchen obviously paring something (apples? potatoes?). Why do they all have one leg up; why are they standing like storks?The painting of the Last Supper - was that meant to be symbolic since the girls are standing in a kitchen?There is a fourth pair of feet and evidence of a little knee behind the child leaning on the refrigerator. Who is she and why isn't she more visible? I took this to be Dolores, the narrator of The Hiding Place. She is the youngest daughter and paid attention to the least. More symbolism?The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi is sad, sad, sad. Dolores Gauci is the youngest of six daughters born to Maltese immigrants Frankie and Mary. Her view on the world is both tragic and innocent. She is at once stoic and childish; solemn and naive. What Dolores sees is a family slowly dismantled by a gambling and always losing father. As her siblings are bartered away Dolores must face a grim childhood with fewer and fewer protections as even her mother's will to survive slips away. Serving as the backdrop for the Gauci family is the 1960s landscape of Cardiff, Wales, an immigration town populated with citizens hardened enough to do just about anything to survive.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A first novel with a powerful cast of characters and a compelling structure that makes it almost impossible to stop anywhere. Set in the rough dockside neighborhoods of Cardiff, Wales, in the mid-twentieth century, it's the story of a Maltese family, overwhelmed by circumstances, told primarily from the point of view of the youngest child. It's hard going---grim and gristly at times---with very little of hope or redemption in it. The writing is gorgeous, but I can't really recommend it because it's just so bleak. Azzopardi's Remember Me was one of my favorite reads last year. If you want to sample her genius, pick up that one instead.
Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This has been a lesson in reading for me. I attempted to read The Hiding Place in 2010, but chucked it at page 50. I couldn¿t get into the story, and I found the writing style odd. I was bored, and despite all the rave reviews, and despite the Booker Prize and Orange Prize nominations, I just couldn¿t get interested enough to make more effort. I gave the book away. But the person I gave it to brought it back and told me it was really very good, so I thought I¿d better give it one more chance.What a difference a change in mood and frame of mind makes. This time the story and the writing grabbed me right away. Azzopardi uses a complex structure and sophisticated style that demands the reader¿s careful attention. But for that reader , the book is highly rewarding.The main part of the story is set in 1960 in the Maltese immigrant community of Cardiff (who knew there even was one?), and most of the story is narrated by Dolores (Dol), the youngest of six daughters. Her mom was a working class Welsh girl who ran away and then met Dol¿s father, who had jumped ship in Wales at the end of WWII. He¿s ne¿er do well, a gambler, and an all-round nasty individual. Theirs is an extremely dysfunctional family. Dad gambles away the rent money, Dol is disfigured in a house fire, one daughter is given away to settle a debt, one daughter is a pyromaniac, and mom suffers bouts of crippling depression (hmmm, I wonder why!). At age five, Dol¿s family disintegrates permanently and she goes into foster care.Most of the story is told by the now-adult Dol, as she tries to piece together the events of her traumatic early childhood and make sense of the bits of memories. This, of course, makes her a highly unreliable narrator, and I see Azzopardi using this as an experiment in memory. Part of this, and what is key to the novel, is the use of silences¿what is not said is usually more important than what actually is said. With each revelation that Dol uncovers, the story shifts a little, building toward a version of what really happened . In the end, some questions are left unanswered, because, well, sometimes life¿s like that.Recommended for: This is a fabulous book for the reader who can pay attention and pick up on the subtleties. Also, you have to be in the mood for this grim world of grinding poverty (I know sometimes I¿m not). Despite their bleak lives, Azzopardi treats her characters with dignity. And although the ending isn¿t particularly depressing, it¿s also not a hopeful feel good story. Because, well, sometimes life¿s like that.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"There are five of us: Celesta, Fran, Rose, Luca and me. There used to be another one, Marina, but she's gone now. It's probably better. I don't know where she'd fit," announces the 5-year-old narrator of The Hiding Place. As soon as I read this passage, I knew what this novel would be about: the father would be degenerate and abusive, the mother depressed and disappointed, poverty would abound and so would disapproving neighbors. And I was exactly right. There is nothing wrong with this book -- in fact, it's written quite beautifully -- but it's still a story I've read before, even if the details were a bit different. If you're interested in a story like this, try The Gathering by Anne Enright, who approaches the topic in a more complex and interesting way.
janiereader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good book, reminiscent of Angela's Ashes but more current. The story is divided into two parts; part one takes place when Dolores is a child between ages 0 and about 4, while part two takes place when she is an adult coming back to her hometown to reunite with her sisters for her mother's funeral. The story of the tumultuous family life is told in a straight forward style with no "poor me" attitude. I really enjoyed it.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Trezza Azzopardi in her debut novel, The Hiding Place, took readers on a journey of heartbreak, family dysfunction and lost dreams. For sure, this book was not for the weak of heart. It¿s meant to be digested slowly and in parts, so that each chapter wields its literary punch in slow succession.The Hiding Place was narrated by Dolores (Dol), the youngest of six daughters. Dol¿s father was a Maltese immigrant who settled in Wales after World War II. In many families, the youngest are ¿babies,¿ Dol never was coddled or overly adored. At one month old, she was involved in a house fire that left her hand disfigured. Most of her older sisters tormented or ignored her, and her parents were too busy to give her much attention.The rest of the family was interesting, but they were heart-breaking characters. Dol¿s father was a gambling, two-timing, disloyal man who would do anything (including ¿selling¿ one of his daughters) to get ahead. Dol¿s mother was emotionally unstable, forced to look the other way at her husband¿s indiscretions. The older sisters came in and out of focus, but much of the attention was paid to Fran ¿ a pyromaniac who loved to watch houses and shops burn down. This was not your Ward Cleaver family.The story opened and ended with the daughters facing the funeral of their mother, with the family history told throughout the middle. As I read the family¿s past, I was cautious about Dol¿s memory because she was only five years old when her family disintegrated. How much could she really remember? How accurate was the retelling of her family¿s past?Despite the darkness of this book, I found The Hiding Place to be an enthralling read. It showed how the ones you love can hurt you the most. Family dysfunction, while the stuff of good stories, is a hard pill to swallow when you¿re reading it. If you like books about family relationships, secrets and dynamics (much like The Gathering by Anne Enright), then I think you will find The Hiding Place a novel worth reading.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of the Gauci family of Wales told through the eyes of Dolores, the youngest of 6 daughters. The themes are fire, gambling, extreme poverty, abuse, but also family ties and personal strength. This book is tragic, gripping, horrifying, but the ending left me in tears. Highly recommended.
RachelPenso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was torn between giving this book three or four stars. I guess I would give it a 3.5, if that was an option. The story was told by Dolores, the youngest of six sisters. Her family is a Maltese family living in Wales. Her father is a chronic gambler and her mother is just trying to hold everything together. Dolores is replaying her family's story and trying to fill in the gaps.
CandyH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was hard to follow and not one to be devoured. It is the story of a poor family in Cardiff, Wales. Their trials and tribulations are of their own making and not very believable at some points. I would not recommend this book.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
This is an amazingly powerful novel about a struggling working class family in Cardiff, Wales. It begins in the early 60's and travels to the end of the nineties using the various horrifying revelations in the memory of Dolores, the youngest sibling in a family of six daughters, to move the tale forward. Poverty, immorality, superstition, mental illness and illiteracy set the stage for abuse, neglect, dysfunction and deprivation that defies the imagination. Each successive memory is progre...more This is an amazingly powerful novel about a struggling working class family in Cardiff, Wales. It begins in the early 60's and travels to the end of the nineties using the various horrifying revelations in the memory of Dolores, the youngest sibling in a family of six daughters, to move the tale forward. Poverty, immorality, superstition, mental illness and illiteracy set the stage for abuse, neglect, dysfunction and deprivation that defies the imagination. Each successive memory is progressively worse than the one preceding it. This book will have a profound effect on the reader. This is not a book one will easily forget as it exposes the wounded family with all of its fatal flaws; the children and the parents are all scarred by something. There is physical abuse, human trafficking in which a child is bartered into slavery, another sent to foster care, another beaten brutally, another permanently injured in tragic circumstances, all tortured by each other in one way or another, as well as by society. Even those that escape the environment bear the marks and damage of memories they try to suppress. The depths to which some will sink in order to survive, for purely selfish reasons, will astound the reader. The inability of others to live and/or fulfill their natural family obligations, as they are thwarted by life's haphazard circumstances, will pain the reader. They cannot find a way out of their circumstances so their dreams and/enormous obligations remain unfulfilled. Their stories will keep one turning pages. Ignorance and superstition stifled and destroyed many lives. This book opens a window onto their suffering. If you read it, you will not be sorry, although you will surely be extremely saddened to learn of the hopelessness that existed for these characters at so many stages of their lives. The one part of the book that disturbed me deeply, was that the kindest, often unjustly, suffered the most, while the guilty often escaped punishment, although their actions caused monumental suffering for others. Perhaps that is true to life, unfortunately; the guilty often do get away unscathed leaving a trail of misery in their wake.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was excellent. I don't even know how to explain its depth. Although at the beginning it was a little harder to keep tabs on what was going on, the second half of the novel had me on edge. It has the right amount of ambiguity to leave one wondering, and it captures vivid enough pictures of poverty and family destructiveness that even readers that know little of these conditions will find it easy to commiserate with the characters. One feels as if he or she is in the very shoes of Dolores, confused and surprised by the secret revelations that the family kept under wraps.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Still reading it, I love the authentic tang of it, even though it's foreign to me in many ways. As a first novel, I found it extraordinarily incisive, powerful, and a lot of other praiseful adjectives I don't have at my command. I can't wait to see how it ends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novel begins with our narrator, the adult Dolores, telling us about a moment in her childhood when she was 5 looking out of the upstairs window watching for her father to return home from the betting shop. She is supposed to warn her mother when she sees him so that Mary can shepherd her friend and neighbor Eva out the back door. It will not be until the very end of the novel that we learn the special significance of these moments of watching. And it is only then that we will learn the significance of the title. The novel tells a harrowing tale of about 5 years in the life of a Welsh-Maltese family, the Gauci's. The voice of the narrator is obviously an adult's voice but much of the novel is written in the first person tense of a 5 year old. The author is playing tricks here with tense and voice that we will not understand completely until Part Two of the novel. Obviously a 5 year old cannot fashion such lush prose, but we will see that the 5 year old doesn't have to when her older counterpart can reminisce. But the tricks and traps of memory are one of the prime undercurrents in the novel that can be missed due to the compelling narrative flow. Azzopardi cuts back and forth in time creating the illusion of a past that is as present as it is gone. It takes an especially sensitive voice to tell this story of dispair and heartbreak without falling into sentimentality. Azzopardi never gets sentimental and in fact, manages to find moments of sly humor. Never at the expense of her characters, but she finds humor in the way that Shakespeare found a way to say some his profoundest thoughts in his comedies. You would think that with 6 children, a mother and father, a friend and neighbors, enough characters populate this novel. But we are not overwhelmed by the proliferation of characters because each one if given special, if brief, attention. Eva is personified by her ocelot coat. The Jackson woman across the street by her disapproving stare. It is a technique used brilliantly by D.H. Lawrence in his book of short stories, 'Twilight in Italy'. The narrative drive is compelling and this is a book that you want to read and keep reading. You are transported into a world that is tough but so beautifully rendered you do not want to leave it. Part of sheer joy of reading this novel is the glorious writing. One can find evidence of a fresh perspective on metaphor and image on almost every page. While this novel is not for the faint of heart, nor for the casual reader, it does us the great service of trusting us. Pay careful attention to the details and read the book in as few sittings as possible because you will miss too much if you try to dip into this book at bedtime. Details are important and while the story can be appreciated on many levels, including as a family mystery, its full resonance will only come with careful attention. A remarkable novel made all the more remarkable by its being a first novel. Such assurance and subtly is usually the mark of a more experienced writer. I eagerly await the next one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
British first-time novelist Trezza Azzopardi stuns with her accomplished portrait of childhood deprivation, a terrain where want goes begging and kindness is stillborn. With a rundown immigrant enclave in Cardiff, Wales, as its setting, The Hiding Place is the story of the Gauci family. Father Frankie, whose 'love is Chance' is a Maltese seaman. A selfish, unrepentant child abuser and thief, he values an inherited ruby ring more than his daughters whom he barters for a stake. His wife, Mary, the mother of six girls, is sometimes forced to sell herself for rent money. Madness is her escape from an intolerable existence. Related in the voice of the youngest child, Dolores, the saga of this family causes readers to ponder the vagaries of birth and life's inequities. As adults, each daughter is haunted by a painful past, days in which their diversions were hopscotch in a dusty alley or inflicting cruelty upon one another until they are relegated to foster care. Ms. Azzopardi's evocation of the littered byways and musty bars of a small dockside community is flawless, as are her portraits of those we meet there. A finalist for the coveted Booker Prize, The Hiding Place is a trenchant, superbly crafted tragedy. It is a bleak but dazzling book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
when the author depicts her life from the perpective of the day she was born the reader knows right from the beginning this is no tale featuring winnie the pooh.indeed most of tessa apozardis first novel make frank mccourt childhood seem happy.the narrator is he youngest daughter of a abusive gambling father and a depressed mother. evev the other siblings in this debut novel are creul.all the poverty aside the reader keeps turning page after page hoping agaainst hope that dolores will overcome the seemingly overwhelming odds .in the second half of the novel when the charactos return for their mothers funeral we are hoping for redemption for dolores aand her sisters.however this is not acinderrella story so the most we can expect is to some insight into another human beings life.after all isnt that what we are seeking to gain through literature and in that the author doesnt dissapoint.