Tag-Archive for ◊ asylum ◊

Author:
• Friday, February 24th, 2012

Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in Southern Albania in 1936, into a non-religious family. His father was a civil servant and his mother was from a wealthy family. He went to primary and secondary school in Gjirokastër followed by language studies at the University of Tirana in the faculty of history and philology where he obtained a teaching diploma in 1956. He continued his studies at the Maxim Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow until 1960.

Kadare was a member of the Albanian parliament from 1970 to 1982, but after some strife with the authorities in 1975 over a politically satirical poem, he was not allowed to publish any of his work for three years. He was also accused by the president of the league of Albanian Writers and Artists of intentionally avoiding to write about politics by writing mainly about history and myths. This was missing the point that Kadare preferred to use these means as an allegory to tackle the current political issues without fearing the repercussions.

Kadare, who is an eminent figure in Albania since the sixties, sought and obtained asylum in France before the fall of communism in his country. He stated at the time that: “Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible…The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship”. Since 1990 he lives both in Paris and Tirana.

Kadare is a prolific writer. His first collection of poetry was published in 1954 and his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published in 1963. He has also written essays and short stories.

His most recent book, Ghost Rider, was published in 2011 and his novels have been published in more than forty countries. In 1992 he won the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca and in 1998 he was the first Albanian to be presented with the prestigious French Legion d’Honneur. In 2005 he won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize and in 2009 he won the Prince of Asturia Award of Arts. He has frequently been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In Albania The Siege was first called The Drums of Rain, (the title later given to the French edition) but was at last published in 1970 in Albanian under the title The Castle, at a time when Albania was still under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. The English version, called The Siege, was published in 2009.

The story which takes place in the early fifteenth century, is of an imaginary siege of an unknown Albanian fortress besieged by the Ottoman Turkish army during the time of George Castrioti. Historically, George Castrioti, known as Skanderbeg, meaning Lord Alexander or Iskander Bey by the Turks, has been the national Albanian hero who bravely fought the mighty Ottomans during the peek of their strength for more than twenty years, when they were the most feared army of the time. He stood as the fierce saviour of Christianity against Islam. It was the confrontation of two cultures and two different religious beliefs, the crescent against the cross, the nowadays so-called: “clash of civilisations”. The historical fact is that after Castrioti’s death in1468, Albania was defeated and became part of the Ottoman empire and is today a predominantly Muslim European Country.

In The Siege, Tursun Pasha, the commander in chief of the Ottoman army, is commissioned to encircle the Albanian fortress which stands amidst fields, assail its people and subjugate them. His fate depends on the success of this mission. He’d better be successful or else commit suicide to make amends for his defeat. As the Quartermaster says to Saruxha: “If he doesn’t win this campaign, his star will dim for good… I am sure of it. If he is beaten, the best he can hope for is banishment for life. As for the worst… The Quartermaster drew a line with his forefinger under his throat”. Tursun Pasha never confronts Skanderberg whose presence is implied in various parts of the novel. He hardly appears in the arena but is acting behind the scenes through his fighters.

Before every new chapter, there are two pages narrating the viewpoint of the non-characterised besieged. Otherwise the whole story is related from the Turks’ angle by several characters, the nameless Quartermaster General in charge of the logistics, the engineer Saruxha, the architect Giaour, the credulous and nervous historian-chronicler Mevla Celebi, the poet Saddedin, the campaign doctor Sirri Selim and the Pasha’s harem who joined the campaign but whose members are kept confined to their tent and guarded by a eunuch.

The story of The Siege, published in 1970, seems to be meant by the author (and for those who can read between the lines) as an indirect representation of the difficult times the Albanians are going through. It was during the rule of the totalitarian, Enver Hoxha and the threat of the Soviet Russians, who were at Albania’s threshold in Czechoslovakia, during the cold war period.

The author, in his novel, describes masterfully and in great detail the brutality and bloodshed in wars, also all the intricacies of a campaign of this magnitude and all that it involves. He portrays with great authenticity the psychology of the invaders and the besieged in this war of attrition: the sustained attacks by the relentless Turkish army and the steadfastness of the stoic Albanians who will not be subdued.

Although it’s an historical fact that the Ottomans ended up conquering Albania, does that make victory perpetually on the side of the technologically advanced and the brutal? Not always according to the story, which goes against historically verified truth. The author wanted to prove an ambiguous point which is not clarified. Maybe out of patriotism and pride or implying that the Enver Hoxha regime, no matter how powerful, will come to an end one day.

The Siege is an engrossing novel, well written with a lot of food for thought, especially when looked upon from today’s perspective.

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Author:
• Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Chris Cleave was born in London in 1973. His father, a highly qualified chemist who could not find work in England in the seventies, moved with his family to Cameroon, west Africa, where he built a Guinness brewery. Chris Cleave spent part of his childhood there and was back in England when he was eight years old. He first went to Hillingdon state school in London and continued his studies in Buckinghamshire, followed by psychology studies at Balliol College, Oxford.

Cleave, who is a novelist and was a columnist for the Guardian newspaper from 2008 to 2010, has worked as a barman, a long distance sailor and a marine navigation teacher.

He lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames near London with his French wife and three children.

Chris Cleave has written two novels to date plus Gold to be published in June 2012:
Incendiary, published in 2005 was adapted into a feature film.
The Other Hand, published in 2008 and will soon be adapted into a film.
He has also written three short stories: Quiet Time. Fresh Water and Oyster.

Cleave’s first novel, Incendiary, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2006 and was short-listed for the 2006 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. In 2008 he was short-listed for the Costa Book Awards in the novel category for his second novel, The Other Hand (Little Bee).

The Other Hand was influenced by Cleave’s childhood in Cameroon. The novel is narrated by the two main characters, Sarah and Little Bee, each one with her own side of the story. The two of them met two years ago for the first time, on a beach in Nigeria in atrocious circumstances. Despite their difference in age and culture, they have in common the aspiration for a peaceful and happy life.

Sarah is an English, hard-working young woman. She is editor of a glossy, women’s magazine called Nixie and is married to the journalist, Andrew O’Rourke. They have a four-year-old child called Charlie, who dresses and carries on as the fictional super-hero character, Batman. They all live in Kingston-upon-Thames. Sarah is unhappy in her wedlock and commits adultery with Lawrence, a Home Office press officer, who is also unhappily married.

As for Udo, she has changed her name to Little Bee and has managed to escape the horror, violence and corruption in her native Nigeria, caused by big oil company exploitation, by seeking asylum in England. Little Bee’s sense of humour and wit is kept intact at all times, even at the worst moments, which helps to keep her going through all the hardships she has to endure. In fact she is quite hilarious often, creating some sort of comic relief, lightening the serious theme of the novel.

In his novel, the author tackles modern, world-wide, important problems: the immigration, the shameful treatment of asylum seekers and how they are sent to their ineluctable deaths. The reader is immersed in the subject right from the first pages of the novel, which starts in the immigration detention centre in Essex, England, where the main character, Little Bee, is detained for two years following her stowaway arrival from Nigeria on a tea cargo ship.

She succeeds in escaping thanks to a clever stratagem orchestrated by a Jamaican girl who is also an asylum seeker and who manages to rescue three girls with her from incarceration without any legal papers. From this point, the whole story unfolds in snippets, the mystery of sixteen-year-old Little Bee and the shocking encounter with the O’Rourke couple, Sarah and Andrew in Nigeria.

Throughout the novel the author transports us from sunny, warm, corrupt and violent Nigeria, whose delta inhabitants are killed because they happen to be living on the unexplored, rich oil area, to the cold, grey, mundane life in England. The contrast is stunning in every respect between the two different worlds of fortunate and unfortunate people who both suffer in different ways. The two existences portrayed in a captivating and moving way.

There is also the underlining of the choices that some people have to make in life. Sarah had to sacrifice her middle finger to save Little Bee’s life, but on the other hand, while in a panic, she thoughtlessly asked Little Bee to contact the police to come and search for her missing, four-year-old son, Charlie. This ended in having Little Bee uncovered and arrested by the same police officers she had called to the rescue. Little Bee, who is young and innocent, makes the choice of fleeing her country to escape from the killers who are after her. As for Andrew O’Rourke, who is suffering from deep depression, he chooses to commit suicide which is helped by the reappearance of Little Bee.

The story’s end is intense and effective, conveying a powerful message. This is doubtless deliberate on the part of the author in order to awaken the human compassion and sense of decency in the hope of provoking a positive reaction and not having his missive lost like a scream in the desert.

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