Her 2019 novel, Echoes – Distant Voices: Distant Lives (Horizons, 2019), tackles this issue head-on. The story is set in the Sixties, at the peak of the feud between the Malta Labour Party and the Church. Prime Minister Dom Mintoff wanted the separation of State and Church, whereas Archbishop Michael Gonzi would have none of it. This split the population right down the middle: one faction, loyal to Mintoff, saw the Church as an oppressive institution that did not want to lose its despotic grip on the population; the other faction viewed Labour as literally Satan’s party. Archbishop Gonzi went as far as interdicting all Labour supporters, prohibiting them from participating in religious rites such as marriage and denying them interment in consecrated ground.
Rosie Farrugia, one of the main characters in the novel, is a sharp, strong-minded young woman, whose ambitions far exceeded what the tiny island of Malta had to offer. Her independent streak was at odds with the conservative mindset of the general community, leading her to support Mintoff and his quest to secularise the political landscape. However, not everyone who shared her point of view was willing to face the consequences of holding such opinions. This bolstered her resolve to leave the island and emigrate to Australia. Like other characters in Drofenik’s stories, Rosie needed to remove herself from her immediate environment in order to develop a clear understanding of who she was and of her place in the world.
Drofenik tells stories of women who inhabit a world which is perilous to them – politically, socially, morally and psychologically. In so doing, she highlights a tension between fate and will in the lives of her female characters. Her protagonists do not have a say about the environment in which they are born; they are however able to be actively involved in pursuing the kind of life they want to live, to imagine and strive for a better future. And even when their decisions lead them astray, or the outcome of their actions is not what they may have hoped for, Drofenik’s women still retain agency over their destinies.
Examples of this are Ġuditta and her daughter Licia in the award-winning novel The Confectioner’s Daughter (Horizons, 2016). Having inherited a bakery from her father, Ġuditta transforms the humble village enterprise into a huge success, despite enduring the hardships of war, losing her husband, and being left to raise their newborn daughter on her own. Although Ġuditta’s best efforts do not prevent Licia from making some bad life choices, the mother refrains from judging her, and so does Drofenik, allowing her to make mistakes, to be flawed, vulnerable, resilient and resourceful.
Drofenik’s protagonists are real people, mostly women, who overcome oppression. She believes that the absolute test of character for any person is to discover and embrace who they truly are, and to go through life being honest with themselves.
Biography written by Noel Tanti
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul