Tag-Archive for ◊ George ◊

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:
• Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Martin Davies grew up in North West England. He travelled a great deal from the Middle East to India. Today he is a BBC television senior producer and editor and lives in South West London.

His bibliography :
Mrs Hudson and the Spirits Curse published in 2004.
Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose published in 2005.
The Conjuror’s Bird published in 2005.
The Unicorn Road published in 2009.

The Conjuror’s Bird is based on historical facts with genuine people from the 18th century like the well-known explorer, botanist and patron of natural sciences, the wealthy Lincolnshire landowner, Baronet Sir Joseph Banks, who was part of Captain James Cook’s first grand voyage around the world on the “Endeavour”, from 1768 to 1771. He was also the unofficial scientific adviser to king George III.

Other known people of the time are Banks’s best friend, Dr. Daniel Carlsson Solander, the Swedish botanist and natural scientist, his Danish friend, Johann Christian Fabricius, professor of natural history and world famous entomologist, and his German friend, the naturalist, ethnologist and travel writer, Johann Georg Forster.

Upon his return to England from Captain Cook’s second expedition in 1774 in the South Seas, Forster offers Banks the well-preserved single specimen of the extinct Ulieta bird.

The novel focuses on the Ulieta bird which became extinct in the 18th century. The extinction of species remains a controversial subject in our 21st century, with its many on-going debates about how humans are destroying the world’s flora and fauna and therefore creating a dangerous unbalance in the ecosystem. A big and serious problem that existed once upon a time and still exists today with apparantly no way of stopping it, unfortunately.

The Conjuror’s Bird intertwines history, romance and thrilling detective pursuit. It’s a biographical fiction mystery novel with literary merit and an engaging, suspenseful story, well-written with intense emotions.

In his novel, the author runs in parallel, by alternating chapters and by using a different typeface, an interlinked story of three centuries: the 18th, the 20th and the 21st, where the past meets the present. The story of the taxidermist, John Fitzgerald, who goes on a detective mission, hunting for the only specimen left of the Ulieta bird, which once belonged to Joseph Banks but disappeared from his collection without any explanation and was never seen again.

If it wasn’t for a coloured drawing done by Forster’s son, Georg, which can be seen in The Natural History Museum in London, no one would have known of its existence. The second story being the love tale of Joseph Banks with the mysterious Miss B—n, the main link being the elusive Ulieta bird and the unknown Miss B. with the striking green eyes, who seems to be the key to finding the long disappeared stuffed bird.

The third story being the discovery of the Congo peacock by James Chapin, the American naturalist,twenty three years after coming across a single peacock feather earlier in the 20th century.

Another link in the novel is the two unfulfilled love stories which stand two centuries apart. The strong and impossible passion that Joseph Banks once shared with Miss B. (Mary Burnett?) who was a woman well ahead of her time in Georgian society, and the infatuation that John Fitzgerald and the ambitiously independent Gabriella used to have for each other. Both loves seem to have ended due to a child, a daughter.

The characters are well depicted, the novel competently structured and a successful amount of research attained. A very pleasant read.

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