The Hiding Place (2000) was Trezza Azzopardi's first published novel. It tells the story of the Gaucis, a half-Maltese, half-Welsh family living in Butetown – "Tiger Bay" – in Cardiff. The story is told through the first-person narrative voice of Dolores, the youngest of six daughters of Frankie Gauci, a Maltese immigrant, and his wife Mary. It is the late 1990s and Dolores has returned to Cardiff to attend the funeral of her mother and reconnect with her sisters. Her return to the locations of her childhood evokes vivid, traumatic memories and perspectives on her upbringing in the 1960s.
The Hiding Place is narrated from the first-person perspective of Dolores Gauci, the youngest of six sisters. Dol, Marina, Celesta, Fran, Rose and Luca are the daughters of Mary, who has moved to Cardiff from a small village in the Cynon Valley, and Frankie, a Maltese immigrant who has arrived to build a life for himself in Cardiff. Upon his arrival in Tiger Bay, Frankie meets Joe Medora, a small-time criminal working his way into a position of power within the world of organised crime. Frankie also befriends Salvatore Capanone, with whom he opens a café on Bute Street.
The novel is set in Butetown – an area near the docklands area of Cardiff known colloquially as "Tiger Bay". Tiger Bay famously supported a rare kind of multicultural community due to its close proximity to Cardiff Docks, a busy port during the height of the Welsh coal industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The shipping industry brought in migrants from around the world to work and live in Cardiff, and the result was a richly multicultural community populated by people of many ethnicities, languages and religions. This short film captures a vibrant community in the late 1950s.
However, there were changes afoot in the 1960s, when many of the areas surrounding the Cardiff Docks were demolished to make way for new urban developments. A film, available on the BBC website, documents some of the changes that were occurring at the time. This substantially changed the community. In an interview with Literary Atlas, Trezza Azzopardi recalls growing up at the time of this massive urban change:
Interview with Trezza Azzopardi – Houses Being Knocked Down
So as I was living there, they were knocking down the streets behind our terrace and it was one of those odd early politics moments where you understand that things are happening outside of the world that you can't control. One of them was that there were loads of women saying, well we're going to go and lie down in front of the bulldozers, because they didn't want to be moved to a place that they didn't recognise, which was literally in fact only down the road. But all the same, you know, their houses were being knocked down.
Much of the novel takes place against the backdrop of these changes in the urban geography of Cardiff during the 1960s, and it captures the darker aspects of life in Tiger Bay at that time. When Delores returns to the area as an adult in the late 1990s, she finds Cardiff in the midst of a new phase of urban development. The novel explores the ways in which places, despite cosmetic regeneration and change, can still be charged with troubling memories.
Though The Hiding Place is clearly set in Cardiff, the novel occasionally distorts the real geography of the area. While some landmarks and road names are accurately described, others are moved and renamed for the purposes of the narrative. Azzopardi remarked on this during her interview with Literary Atlas:
Interview with Trezza Azzopardi – Slight Distortion of the Geography
in terms of things like… one of the characters goes searching through the streets for another character, and those streets are actually in Adamsdown. Parts of them are in Splott, and one commentator has said, whoever thinks this book is set in the Docks doesn't know Cardiff ‘cause actually it's set in Splott. So for me, it's as I remember it but for people who maybe live there now, who go and forensically look at it, there might be a slight distortion of the geography.
There are four plotlines to explore for The Hiding Place: