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The Hiding Place A finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize The Hiding Place Welsh novelist Trezza Azzopardi's lyrical tale of an immigrant family in Cardiff has been compared to Frank McCourt's bleak stirring memoir Angela's Ashes But The Hiding Place need not hide behind any ready made comparisons; Azzopardi's astonishing tension filled debut stands assuredly on its own as a work of tremendous power and originality The Hiding Place is narrated by Dolores the youngest of six daughters born to a Maltese immigrant father and a Welsh mother With one hand permanently disfigured by a fire when she was only one month old the hand is beautifully described by the author as a closed white tulip standing in the rain; a cutoff creamy marble in the shape of a Saint; a church candle with its tears flowing down the bulb of wrist Dolores has always been treated as an outcast Her father Frankie Gauci is an incorrigible gambler who bets than he can afford to lose On the day Dolores is born he loses his half share of a cafeacute as well as the apartment above it where his family lives Everything in Frankie's life is potential currency including his family; he even sells his second oldest daughter Marina to gangster Joe Medora in exchange for a house and money to pay off his debts Dolores's mother Mary is driven to the edge of insanity as she watches the world around her collapse helpless to save even her children from her husband's vices At times The Hiding Place paints a phantasmagoric portrait of cruelty but Trezza Azzopardi's gracefully exacting prose saves her tale from becoming a shock fest of the sort you would expect on daytime television talk shows Azzopardi forges profundity through delicately interwoven double sided images rabbits that are the children's playthings until they are brutally slaughtered by their father; trunks rooms and cages that can either protect or ensnare; and most abundantly and most significantly fire which can warm as well as ravage Even Dolores's older sister Fran is sent away to a home for being a pyromaniac craving risk like her father gambling on how hot how high on how long she can bear it While some readers may wonder how Dolores is able to relate events that happened when she was so young it is easy to associate these stories with the phantom pains she feels in her missing fingers her ability to miss something she never knew The story comes to us in a dreamlike tapestry weaving together different times and perspectives Conseuently the narrative is fragmented leaving the reader with half tellings missing details stories that unfold only in the retelling and a sense that the only fact we can be certain of is the profound meaning she imparts through them The Hiding Place is as much a portrait of a family's destruction as it is an exploration of how memory bends and buckles under the weight of ruin and how blame can be twisted like a flame in draught; it will burn and burn


10 thoughts on “The Hiding Place

  1. Sian Lile-Pastore Sian Lile-Pastore says:

    We are discussing this book on Saturday for reading group so my thoughts may change after chatting about it and I'll let you knowI read this in a couple of days and found it really readable and engaging enough that I wanted to keep reading it and finding out what had happened I was drawn in by the style of the writing too which in the main I enjoyed I wasn't a huge fan on the structure of the book going back and forth in time and found the second part of the book where the main character is all grown up a little weak I live in Cardiff so enjoyed the cardiffness of it all although tiger bay in the 60s is very different to now and not something I'm familiar with Ultimately though although I could see the positives in this I just never got emotionally involved in it The themes of the book are uite harrowing and bleak but I felt unaffected by it and felt very much removed from it all not caring for any of the characters reallyI guess it just didn't feel real to me it felt like I was reading a story something made up which I know I am but to feel really caught up in a book you need to believe in it turned out most people in reading group really liked it but found it too bleak Made me feel like maybe I was a psychopath as I didn't connect to it


  2. thewanderingjew thewanderingjew says:

    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 itThis 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 andor 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 andenormous 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


  3. Simon Simon says:

    I'm uite particular about family dramas I either love them or loathe them with little I between This however I adored The tale of the childhood of sisters brought up by a pair of runaway parents one from Malta one from the valleys is a wonderful evocative and occasionally emotionally wrought tale that looks at the lives of the working classes and how the memories of children can be so different from the truth Family secrets and twists galore stunning writing Bingo


  4. ☮Karen ☮Karen says:

    Not an easy read due to the way the story is laid out and jumps around so much Also a lot of characters to try to keep straight By the ending I was not at all sure what exactly had happened to the main character Maybe I need to re read portions of it but don't really want to


  5. Diane Diane says:

    I couldn't decide whether to give this a three or a four star rating I went with three stars but it would be accurate to say 35 Anyway this is a very dark but well written book and since I appreciate good writing I enjoyed the book for that alone The story reminded me of Angela's Ashes but I liked it much than I did that bookThe family in the story is very poor and the mother can't cope with the horrible situation in which she finds herself with five daughters to care for and a gambling irresponsible husband Dolores the youngest daughter narrates most of the book and at times I wasn't sure whose narration I was reading which was confusing for me but I still became emotionally involved with the characters I actually cried at the end which tells me I DID at least understand some of what I readThis book is not for anyone who likes a book with a linear plot


  6. Ailsa Ailsa says:

    I studied this as part of course at uni we were covering contemporary literature which involved having the writers who just so happen to teach at UEA coming and talking to us about a novel of their own and a novel by another author that inspired them although Trezza Azzopardi chose not to do this Anyway although I found Azzopardi herself very interesting and engaged with many of her ideas and themes such as memory reconstructing the past etc I really struggled to stay involved with this book especially in its second half which at times feels like unneccessary exposition laying bare all the subtly hinted at horrors of the first half that could have been all the powerful if they had just been left to stand alone


  7. Rebecca Lloyd Rebecca Lloyd says:

    This novel is uite extraordinary; a compelling read I found it by accident while on holiday when I really needed a new book and ended up reading it through the night and finally saying 'wow' I had intuited how it would end but that didn't make me less impressed by it The way the author structured the novel is impressive and I think it was her very first It feels very autobiographical and if it's not then it is truly impressive and of course I hope it wasn't autobiographical given the content


  8. Ron Charles Ron Charles says:

    What an entrance The first time anybody heard of Trezza Azzopardi she was nominated for one of the world's most prestigious literary awards Nestled among books by Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood there sat The Hiding Place a first novel by a recent graduate student up for this year's Booker Prize English bookstores scrambled to find copies Readers in the US were locked out while publishers bid on the domestic rights Gratefully Atlantic Monthly Press the most discerning publisher of literary fiction in America is releasing the book this weekWherever Azzopardi has been hiding it's been worth the wait Her novel about the misfortunes of the Gauci family in Cardiff Wales burns with the blue flame of long smothered agony And yet her sophisticated handling of the early trauma memoir made so spectacularly popular by Frank McCourt Co casts fresh light on the process of memory and the subjectivity of experienceThe story is told by Dolores the youngest of the Gauci's six girls in a poor Maltese immigrant community A series of delicately rendered scenes shows the family collapsing in a neighborhood that's slowly being demolished in the 1960s You can smell the close grimy uarters of Cardiff in these pages Azzopardi creates a collection of neighbors pushed alternately to compassion or bitterness by unrelenting povertyThe children meanwhile must navigate this turbulence largely on their own Dolores's hauntingly cool voice a hybrid perspective of a child's innocence and an adult's irony describes the family's decayTheir father Frank is a man given chances than he deserves He owns half a cafe that could support them but he can't shake the thirst for easy wealth and in the process he starves his family pushing his wife and one of his daughters into prostitutionThe night Dolores is born Frank is playing cards with a two bit gangster an archetypal villain who makes sure he looks the part His friends send him a lie about the birth to raise his spirits 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#8230; At least I have a son he thinks as he rolls the ring across the worn green feltIn the novel's most wrenching moment 1 month old Dolores is almost burned to death in their apartment She survives the flames but loses her wispy new hair much of her baby soft skin and her left handRegarded first as a disappointment for being a girl by the time Dolores becomes aware of herself she's aware of herself as a charred embodiment of the family's bad luckOne of the many frightening talents of this new author is the way she delineates the scale of a child's pain Tragedies large and small sear Dolores with euivalent effect When her pet rabbits are killed for instance the damage to her seems almost as severe as the loss of her handTheir mother loves these girls and fights to save them from their father's carelessness and the social workers' care but circumstances seem destined to crush her body and mind She's never free from the terror of having to support six children while lashed to an abusive husband ready to sell off anything and anyone that might bring in a bit of luck or moneyDolores winds through these events without blame or sentimentality She has a clear eyed view of her parents' agony even through the cloud of their shameless irresponsibility She wants only to retrieve these memories and place them in order as though that might relieve her of the burden of wishing she could have saved her parents from themselvesA short section set in the present day at first seems tacked on to this harrowing story of childhood But it uickly complicates the novel in fascinating ways Dolores notes As with all truth there is another version When the sisters gather for the first time in 30 years for their mother's funeral the air is thick with those other versions long nursed grievances rock solid denial and the unuenched need to reconnect with their fellow survivorsDolores begins to realize that common experiences don't make for common perceptions or similar needs Some of her sisters insist she couldn't have witnessed crucial events she recalls with great precision The oldest sibling has interred the past and insists that no one disturb it For Dolores this long awaited reunion threatens a final separation from her siblings And yet as with so much of the suffering in this book there is a kind of tenacious love beating beneath the surfacehttpwwwcsmonitorcom20010111p1


  9. Joana Joana says:

    The plot had potential but the writing style made it painfully slow often boring and in the end confusing This is the story of a family set in the background of Maltese immigrants in Cardiff Not actually knowing that background myself many of the settings reminded me of the Godfather or the Sopranos The parents Frankie and Mary go through some hard times and aren't very successful taking care of their six girls and so it's often the community that has to do it for them While I liked some of the characters Eva and Salvatore come to mind many of the main characters were hard to pinpoint and understandThe 2nd part of the book concerns a family reunion many years later and it's a little interesting but I didn't find all the answers I was looking for in fact it left me even confused For much of the story the narrator is a 1 month baby but she knows about things that happen around her and even in places she is not present this despite it being clear that she's an outcast in her family and nobody ever told her anything about her childhood How does she know all of it then? Then in much of the action she is 5 years old but in her adulthood she seems to recall things from that time with amazing detail The endless descriptions of dirty objects come to mindAnother thing that I didn't like was the way the writer introduced dialogue She obviously never heard of hyphens so the only indicator of a voice was a new paragraph Finally even though throughout the whole book the narrator is Dol in the 1st person we can also get inside the minds of the other characters from a 3rd person perspective especially in the 2nd part of book Very confusing change of perspective Probably not an author I will be turning to again I'm afraid and also not a book that made me want to visit Cardiff


  10. Nicola Nicola says:

    I've wanted to read this book for ages not just because it got good reviews and was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2000 but because I'm Maltese so it follows that I'm very interested in anyone of Maltese descent who is a successful writerI had read some excellent reviews of this when it first came out so I had very high expectations I did enjoy the sensuous use of language and the author's talent for evoking the sense of place and time but I nevertheless had a few rather childish issues with the content of the book Firstly I read in an interview with the author that she never actually knew anyone similar to Frank Gauci arguably the main antagonist in the novel and I couldn't help feeling slightly short changed that she had depicted this Maltese immigrant as such a cruel and abusive husband and father as well as a crappy friend There were points when the novel almost took on the tone of misery lit Secondly would it have been so terrible to have used Maltese words and phrases rather than Italian ones? These could have been easily explained in little footnotes I resent the idea that Italian and Maltese are interchangeable


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