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In 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb near her home in rural Malta. A journalist who for decades had covered corruption within and around the Maltese government, her work was so well-known that fans and detractors alike referred to her only by her first name.

Daphne’s shocking murder prompted many, including her three sons, to believe she had been targeted by some of the same politicians and businessmen she had written about. Her work included the local fallout from the 2016 Panama Papers exposé.

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Daphne’s youngest son, Paul Caruana Galizia, has spent the past six years with his brothers lobbying authorities both within Malta and across Europe to investigate his mother’s death. The result was the country’s first-ever public inquiry, which led to four confessions and a complex national scandal that has yet to be fully unravelled.

Galizia’s new book, A Death in Malta, is a hybrid memoir-history that places Daphne’s life and work within the broader context of her home country. Galizia, now a journalist himself for Tortoise in Britain, uses his skills as a reporter to, as he puts it in the book’s dedication, “introduce you to my mother before she is lost again.”

Your mother was the first female newspaper columnist in Malta, and the first of any gender to write under her own name. She also routinely took on difficult topics like political and financial corruption. Where did that bravery come from?

I think it took root in her childhood. She grew up in a Malta that was very closed off from the world, and there was a lot of partisan violence. I think she was already developing the idea that Malta should be a different kind of country. She would read foreign publications and ask herself, “Why do they have that kind of life, and we don’t?” In 1984, when she was 19 years old, she was arrested at an anti-government protest and assaulted by a police officer, but charged with assaulting him. She was later acquitted. According to one of her friends that I interviewed, it was that event that really set her on this path. She took a very strong view on human-rights abuses, on governance, on issues around protest and free speech.

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The sons of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Matthew Caruana Galizia, centre, and Paul Caruana Galizia, second left, attend a vigil outside the Maltese High Commission in London, England on April 16, 2018.TOLGA AKMEN

While studying in university, your mother learned about a concept called ‘amoral familism,’ and it seems to have had a profound effect on her. What does it mean, and how does it relate to what she saw around her in Malta?

One of her core subjects was anthropology, and one of the texts in that course was an anthropological study of a southern Italian village. The anthropologist came up with the term amoral familism, which is this: The most important unit in society is the nuclear family, and all nuclear families think only of their own short-term advantage, act to maximize it and assume all other nuclear families do the same. The implication of that way of living is that you develop no civil society. You don’t support each other, and you don’t form institutions that govern your area. The idea was already unfashionable in the mid-nineties, and had been criticized a lot. But for my mother, it seemed to explain a lot of what she saw around her.

When she started working, she saw how commonplace low-level bribery was. She began to wonder why it was so endemic. Why was the state so weak in Malta? The people did not rely on the police or the judiciary. It was always the family unit – and after that, the political party. This idea of amoral familism seemed to fit, and it informed a lot of her writing, even quite early on.

You write at length in the first half of the book about Malta itself: its geography, its history, its politics. Why was it important to you to foreground the setting so strongly?

Initially, I wasn’t keen on it. But as I was reporting on my mother as a person, it became obvious that the history really mattered in her life. She was born just two weeks before Malta became decolonized, and the arc of her life matched the country’s. The country’s political development shaped her, I think. It had immediate, daily effects on her life and our life [as a family]. I developed a new appreciation for how strange Malta’s history is, and how important it is in explaining what brought the country to this point.

My mother died exposing corruption in Malta. Other democracies can’t rest on their laurels, either

Daphne started receiving threats and intimidation in response to her work when you and your brothers were still young children. How much did you understand about what was really going on?

The first time her journalism came home to us was in 1994, when she was reporting on a Maltese drug trafficker: her first major news story. She picked us up from school and we came home to find our border collie on our doorstep in a puddle of her own blood. I was six years old. Our mother told us, “Don’t worry, it’s probably snake poison.” Which was something that had happened to another dog. Around that time, there was the first arson attack on our house, and our wooden door went up in flames one night. Again, she told us, “Don’t worry about it. I just dropped a lit candle against the front door.” For our childhood, she could do that. But things really changed with the internet. Suddenly everyone could read her writing all the time. And suddenly everyone could write about her all the time. Things really became ugly then, and impossible to hide from us.

This is obviously an incredibly personal story, but you tell it in such a calm and clear-eyed way. How did you decide on the appropriate amount of distance to leave between you and the story?

There were a number of false starts. I tried different ways of writing it, different styles, but in the end it came out of the requirement to do the reporting. I realized quite early on how little I knew about my mother’s early childhood and adolescence. So I had to report on my own mother as though I would report on the subject of a magazine profile. And then, once I had built up that material, it seemed to me that it should be told in that way, rather than a pure memoir. I didn’t want it to be sentimental. I wanted people to learn about her on her own terms, as much as this is possible.

There are moments in the book where it feels as though Daphne could have entered politics herself as a counterforce to the corruption and small-mindedness she wrote about. She was very popular, and clearly understood the issues facing the country. Do you think she was ever tempted to do so?

She wasn’t tempted, but she was certainly asked a lot [by her readers]. My father would tease her about it. For her, it was really just a love of writing. She was actually a very shy person, and like a lot of people with that characteristic, she found it easier to express her very strong views in writing. She believed in journalism as a means to change the country.

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