Tag-Archive for ◊ Académie Française ◊

Author:
• Saturday, February 27th, 2016

Amin Maalouf was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1949, the second of four children, from a family that originated in Yemen. He spent the first years of his childhood in Cairo, Egypt, where his parents lived at the time, before returning to Beirut a few years later. He studied at the French Jesuit school, Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour followed by the Université saint Joseph in Beirut where he read sociology and economics. His father, Ruchdi Maalouf, was a renowned writer, a journalist, a poet and a talented painter as well as the owner of a newspaper. From an early age Amin Maalouf wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Amin Maalouf became an editor for the leading Beirut daily newspaper, El Nahar International, and covered many events around the world, like the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy in September 1974, the last battle of Saigon in March and April 1975, as well as important events in Somalia, Yemen, India and Bangladesh among others.

In 1976, fourteen months after the Lebanese civil war, Maalouf flew to Paris with his wife and three young children, where he worked for the weekly, Jeune Afrique, and became editor in chief while resuming his trips and reporting from all over the world for his weekly. After the big success of his first novel, Leo The African in 1986, he dedicates himself to writing full-time. He still lives in Paris with his wife and three grown-up sons.

Maalouf ‘s mother tongue is Arabic but all his books are written in French. He has written fiction, non-fiction as well as opera librettos and his books have been translated into several languages. In 1993 Maalouf won the oldest and most famous French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, for The Rock of Tanios published the same year. In 1998 he received the European prize of the Essay for In the Name of Identity and in 2010 the Prince of Asturias award of Letters for all his work. In 2011 he was the first Lebanese to become a member of the prestigious Académie française.

Maalouf has been awarded honorary doctorates by the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, the University of Tarragona in Spain and the University of Evora in Portugal.

The Rock Of Tanios, based loosely on a true story, intertwines the Lebanese history of 1830 with a legend passed from one generation to another. A world where intrigues, conflicts and competition between the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, France and Britain end in battles on Mount Lebanon. All these factors among others help to forge the destiny of Tanios Kishk, a remarkable and mysterious character.

Tanios, whose hair grows white at an early age giving him the look of a wise man despite being naive, is a tortured soul looking for identity when he fortuitously discovers his illegitimate birth. He is an intelligent, rational teenager who challenges laws and established social conventions. His fate is similar to a Greek tragedy. He seems to inadvertently trigger family, clanic and regional conflicts, which changes everything in the whole area, including people’s lives. He also unexpectedly becomes a useful mediator between leaders, despite his young age.

The story is set in the small Lebanese village of Kfaryabda – the name is fictional but the village is real. The book’s title refers to a rock, shaped like a majestic throne, to which Tanios – when he becomes a mythical figure – ascends, sits on the rock for a short while before disappearing for ever in a mysterious way and, according to the local legend, not seen again. That is why the maleficent rock carries the name of Tanios. The only rock in the area that has a human name and the only rock that children are not allowed to climb for fear of the superstitious belief that they might disappear like Tanios if they sit on it.

The narrator obtained his story from two sources: the three historical, weighty “authentic” documents and his grandfather’s cousin, the ninety-six-year-old Gebrayel, a former history teacher who is passionate about the events of the nineteenth century that took place in his region.

The narrator, the characters and happenings are imaginary, as well as being based in varying degrees on real persons and real events.

Tanios is born in suspicious circumstances. Officially his father is Sheikh Gerios who is highly ranked, being Sheikh Francis’ intendant and yet servile in his attitude and his mother is the very beautiful, Lamia. There are rumours in the village that Tanios is the son of the powerful, patriarchal, feudal lord, the philanderer, Sheikh Francis, ruler of Kfaryabda, who never hesitates to use his “droit du seigneur” over the girls and women villagers.

The Rock Of Tanios is for Maalouf a truly nostalgic return to the roots of his beloved Lebanon in days of yore. Maalouf in his “Author’s Folder” titled: A Forgotten World, says about Lebanon that it’s: “A country of extreme gentleness and extreme violence, a bewildering country…A captivating and unforgettable country, undoubtedly”.

The book is an enchanting, fascinating, colourful, bitter-sweet tale from the nineteenth century, underlining the wisdom and madness of humans, with a background of real Lebanese history, legend, superstitions, rituals, tribalism, love and vengeance, the description of a feudal society based on loyalty. It’s poetically written, with passages like this one: “Fate comes and goes through us like the shoemaker’s needle goes through the leather he is shaping”.

In The Rock Of Tanios the characters are well depicted and moving; an array of appealing personalities contrasting with forceful and devious ones. The story is like one of the One Thousdand And One Night stories, with excentric characters like the strange hawker multeer, Nader who writes philosophical books and brings them to market in the hope of selling them to learned people.

The reader feels like going on an enchanting journey across time and place, similar to Maalouf’s other unforgettable, fascinating and beautifully written novel, Samarkand, which carries us to eleventh century Persia with the story revolving around the famous philosopher and poet Omar Khayyam.

“Have I not sought beyond the legend, the truth? and when I believed to have reached the truth, it was made of legend”. Very succintly put by Amin Maalouf to describe the quintessence of the whole story behind The Rock Of Tanios.

Author:
• Saturday, January 29th, 2011

J.M.G. Le Clezio was born in 1940 in Nice, France from French parents who were first cousins and originally from Brittany. Both their families emigrated to Mauritius in the 18th century which was at the time a British colony and where Le Clezio’s father was born.

In 1947 Le Clezio had to travel to Nigeria with his mother and brother to join their husband and father who was serving as a doctor there, during the Second World War. The family returned to Nice in 1950.

Le Clezio went to school in Nice, in 1957. With his baccalaureate in literature and philosophy in hand, he continued his studies at Bristol University, London University and l’Institut d’Etudes Littéraires in Nice. He received his M.A. Degree in 1964 from the University of Aix-en-Provence and wrote his thesis on Mexico’s early history, which entitled him to a doctorate degree at the University of Perpignan in 1983.

Le Clezio grew up with two languages, French and English. He taught at universities in Bangkok, Mexico City, Boston, Austin and Albuquerque to mention but a few.

Le Clezio has obtained several prestigious literary prizes :
Prix Renaudot in 1963, Prix Larbaud in 1972, Grand Prix Paul Morand de l’Académie française in 1980, Grand prix Jean Giono in 1997,Prix Prince de Monaco in 1998, Stig Dagermanpriset in 2008, The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 and he was rewarded the highest Mexican award for foreigners,The Aztec Eagle in 2010. He was made chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1991 and was promoted to officier de la Légion d’honneur in 2009.

Le Clezio has been married twice, in 1960 and in 1975. He has two daughters, one from each wedlock.

Le Clezio wrote and sold many books which have been translated into several languages. He is one of France’s well known prestigious contemporary writers.

His novel, Desert, was published in France in 1980. Twenty-eight years later it was singled out among all his work by the Nobel Prize Academy as his “definitive breakthrough as a novelist”.

The story of Desert is the tale of two young Moroccan teenagers from different generations, Nour and Lalla. They both belong to a nomadic tribe of warriors, called “the blue men”. They are both struggling for survival in a different way and their lives never connect. Their two stories run in parallel throughout the novel and take place in two different time periods, Nour being born in the nineteenth century and Lalla much later in the twentieth century.

The first period which starts from 1909 and ends in 1912, is related by Nour, a young teenager, whose family left everything behind to join the march with other North African tribes who also had to leave their homes, due to the advancing French colonialists pushing them out of their native land. They march stoically, an endless exhausting journey in the inclement North African desert climate, hoping to reach the haven promised by their old and wise venerated religious leader, Ma el Aïnine. Unfortunately Nour will witness the defeat of his people’s rebellion due to hunger and exhaustion against the better equipped and trained French army.

The second period which ends in the near contemporary, is the story of Lalla, a young wild and solitary teenager. She is an orphan raised by her aunt in a poor coastal, Moroccan shanty town. Lalla can’t read or write but that doesn’t seem to matter to her, as long as she can listen to her aunt’s stories and the tales of the old fisherman, Naman and as long as she is close to nature and feels part of it. Being wild at heart, she likes the sea, the sand, the animals and the insects.

Therefore, when circumstances lead Lalla to Marseilles, she feels bewildered in the big city. Completely cut off from nature she feels like a fish out of water and isn’t happy despite becoming famous as a front cover model with great career potential. Away from her beloved wild nature back home, she couldn’t survive. Lalla is a lonely young woman and the only way for her to be happy again is to go back to nature where she once belonged and where she feels the meaning of real freedom. She also longs to see her dearest, beloved deaf and dumb best friend, Hartani, the shepherd.

In Desert, the description of the landscape is so real and vivid that the reader can almost feel the heat of the scorching sand during the day, the bitter, bleak cold at night and the vastness of the endless North African desert. Nature in the novel constitutes an important part. It has its rules, its beauty, its harshness but also its whims.

Desert is not a thriller and doesn’t rely on a plot — it should be read and savoured slowly, like all good things in life. Desert is just sheer beautiful writing with a historical background and a great deal of love and compassion. A poetic profound contemplation with an enhanced enchanting leitmotiv, a sort of an ode to Nature in general and to the North African Desert and its nomadic people in particular.

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