Tag-Archive for ◊ clash ◊

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.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London in 1967 but moved to Rhode Island USA with her parents at the age of two. She received a B.A. in English literature from Barnard College, an M.A. in English from Boston University as well as an M.A. in Creative Writing, in comparative studies in literature and arts, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance studies. She taught creative writing at Boston university and the Rhode Island school of design.

Jhumpa Lahiri has written only two books to date: her short stories “Interpreter of Maladies” published in 1999. It became a best-seller in no time, was translated into 29 languages, and won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the first time to have been won by an Indian. She also won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, and a nomination for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Her second book “The Namesake”, published in 2003, is her first novel. The New Yorker has published two of her stories: “Nobody’s Business” in 2001 and “Hell and Heaven” in 2004. The New Yorker named her one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40.

Jhumpa Lahiri lives and works in Brooklyn with her Guatemalan American husband, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, who works as a deputy editor for the Time Latin America and their son Octavio. She was married in 2001. Her parents live three hours away from her home. Her father is a librarian and her mother a professor of Bengali. She also has a younger sister.

Her real name is Nilanjana Svdeshna. Jhumpa is her nick-name. “The Namesake” is being filmed and is to be released in 2006.

“The Namesake”, J.L.’s first novel, deals with more than one theme: the difficulty for immigrants to adapt to a new life far away from home, the clash between different cultures and the problem of integration. Ashoke and Ashima, newly married in Calcutta, move to Cambridge Massachusetts for Ashoke to continue his studies and obtain an MIT engineering degree. Ashoke is more supple and open-minded vis-à-vis the American way of life than his wife, Ashima who will never be able to accept this new culture thrust on her. During the 32 years from 1968 to 2000 we come across the struggle of the Bengali second generation immigrants and their search for identity.

Jhumpa Lahiri says in one of her interviews: “The question of identity is always a difficult one, but especially so for those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously, as is the case for their children. The older I get, the more I am aware that I have somehow inherited a sense of exile from my parents, even though in many ways I am so much more American than they are. In fact, it is still very hard to think of myself as an American. (This is of course complicated by the fact that I was born in London.) I think that for immigrants, the challenges of exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienantion, the knowledge of, and longing for a lost world, are more explicit and distressing than for their children. On the other hand, the problem for the children of immigrants – those with strong ties to their country of origin – is that they feel neither one thing nor the other. This has been my experience in any case.”

When asked which country was her motherland, JL replied: “None”, “No country is my motherland. I always find myself in exile in whichever country I travel to. That’s why I was always tempted to write something about those living their lives in exile”, she said.

Reading this would explain her deeply moving way of describing her characters and their various conflicts, especially the main character, Gogol, who had been given a nick-name – a Bengali tradition – which is neither Indian, nor American, and not even a first name but a Russian surname. He was named after the Russian writer, Nicolaï Gogol, his father’s favourite author and also rescuer from the train accident in India. People saw the father in the train’s wreckage thanks to the father holding Gogol’s collection of short stories. Gogol hated his nickname, which became his official name, and felt relieved to go and have it changed to Nikhil.

Jhumpa Lahiri says: “The original spark for the book was the fact that a friend of my cousin’s in India had the pet name, Gogol. I wanted to write about the pet name, good name distinction for a long time, and I know I needed the space of a novel to explore the idea.” The idea has been very well explored in depth in addition to the immigration/assimilation problem.

The description of the characters is quite detailed and charming, like Ashima’s examining her future husband’s shoes in the lobby of her parents’ house before walking into the sitting room.

Gogol grows up to be an intelligent, well educated man, but feels helplessly lost. He has a good, promising job and yet can’t find his way in life. He was born and grew up in America from Benghali parents with an odd name that he didn’t appreciate and which became his real name. He had a bad experience with an American young lady and a hurtful one from his Benghali wife, which led to divorce.

He is the main character in the book and the very touching one. Through Gogol we live the trials and tribulations of the Ganguli family. The style of the narration is elegant and so is the prose. All the events are described in great detail. Even the description of the different Indian dishes are mouth watering. It’s all very endearing and very life like.

Full circle is reached when Nikhil discovers among the books his mother piled in a box to give away to the library, the long forgotten volume that his father once gave him as a birthday present and which he never even looked at. Suddenly Nikhil felt the urge to discover “The Collection of Short Stories” by Nikolaï Gogol. Like his grandfather and his father before him, Nikhil has embarked on a new discovery.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment