Tag-Archive for ◊ commander ◊

• 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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• Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Rose Tremain was born Rosemary Jane Thomson in London in 1943. She attended Frances Holland School from 1949 to 1954, then Crofton Grange School from 1954 to 1961. Afterwards she studied at The Sorbonne in Paris for one year, where she took a diploma in the “Cours de Civilisation française”.

She graduated from the University of East Anglia with a B.A. (honours) Degree in English in 1967 and taught Creative writing from 1988 to 1995 in the University of East Anglia.

Rose Tremain has won several awards for her books. She has written several novels, short-story collections and a number of radio and television plays. She was chosen as one of the twenty “Best Young British Novelists” in a promotion by the literary magazine Granta published in 1983. She was a judge for The Booker Prize for Fiction in 1988 and in 2000. She reviews and broadcasts on a regular basis for the press and radio.

The Road Home was short-listed for the 2007 Costa Novel Award and won the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Before writing The Road Home, Rose Tremain undertook extensive reading and researching about post 1989 Eastern European society. She also benefited from interviewing Polish field-workers in Suffolk.

Rose Tremain has been divorced twice and now lives with her companion, Richard Holmes, the biographer, between Norfolk and London. She has one daughter from her first marriage in 1972 who became an actress.

Rose Tremain was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2007.

The setting of The Road Home is contemporary London. The main character is a forty-two-year-old East European called Lev, from an unnamed ex Eastern bloc republic. He is an unemployed, lumberyard worker after his sawmill closed due to lack of wood and a bereaved widower since his young wife Marina died of leukaemia. In desperation he decides to travel for many hours by bus from his rural village, Auror, to reach London in order to find a job which will provide a humble living for his impoverished old mother and his five-year-old daughter who remains back home.

In The Road Home, the author tackles a present reality issue, a good insight into the problem of the Eastern European labourers who migrate to the Western world and the harsh repelling reality they face. They feel unwelcome by the English and have to withstand a great deal of hardship in order to survive and supply means of subsistence to their families.

The author succeeds in humanising, with compassionate understanding, the problem concerning the invasion of Eastern European workers, by portraying a friendly and sincere Lev, who like any human being has his good qualities, his weaknesses and his misdeeds. He is not just a part of an unjust and cold statistic of the unpopular foreign invader-workers we read about. He is described in a sympathetic, likeable way.

He is handsome, he is kind, sincere and feels for others. Lev is homesick; he is certain that he doesn’t belong to this Western society he lives in, but he has to endure his affliction courageously in order to reach the target he has set himself.

The story is engaging, poignant at times, but thanks to Christy, Lev’s drunken Irish, light-hearted landlord and Rudi, Lev’s best friend and compatriot, who stayed back home, the reader can enjoy some comic relief.

An easy to read, emotionally rich and entertaining novel while at the same time thought provoking. Despite the nostalgia and melancholy of some chapters, it’s an optimistic story full of hope.

Through Lev’s eyes, we see the materialistic world that he can’t fully understand and we see all the decadence of the West, depicted in English society : The portrayal of old people left unvisited by their children in old people’s homes, the well-to-do snobs who cheer with approval a play that makes a banality out of incestuous-paedophilia simulation, or the amount of waste in a capitalist country.

Not really an attractive sight. Rose Tremain says in one of her interviews : “It’s the culture we swim in… I do think for an outsider’s eye it does look extremely vulgar and shallow…More now than it ever has.”