‘Carmine Menna runs the only optician’s shop on the little island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily.
Although he saw the migrants all around him every day and felt pity for them, he did not really see them – he did not want to see them as his problem.
After all, he was just an optician. What could he do?
One day in early October 2013, however, he took a boating holiday with his wife and six friends.
He remembers it was a beautiful day and he woke in his bunk to hear what he thought was the first of the seagulls squabbling and screaming over a lucky catch.
But when the noise became more persistent and piercing, he and his crew upped anchor and went to investigate.
They did not find seagulls.’
Emma Jane Kirby’s novel, The Optician of Lampedusa, is drawn from real events that she covered as a journalist for the BBC Radio 4. Based in Sicily, she was reporting on the migrant crisis when she first heard from Carmine Menna, whose experiences in the aftermath of a disastrous shipwreck formed the basis of the book.
In this short article, Kirby tells the story-behind-the-story, with links to some of her original reporting on BBC Sounds, including interviews with Menna as he is reunited with some of the people he was able to save.
Emma Jane Kirby will be briging The Optician of Lampedusa to Cardiff BookTalk on 21 October. Book your free ticket for this online event: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cardiff-booktalk-the-optician-of-lampedusa-registration-169502190615