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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, June 14th, 2014

Arto Paasilinna, one of seven children – five sons and two daughters – was born in 1942 in Kittilä, Lapland in Finland to a civil servant father and a housewife mother. He studied at the General and Elementary School Line at the Lapland Folk Academy.

As a young teenager, Paasilinna worked in various jobs. One of them was as a farm labourer and a wood cutter. He says: “I was a boy of forests, working the land, timber, fishing, hunting, the whole culture that is found in my books”. Later he worked as a journalist, writer and editor for various newspapers and literary magazines.

In 1975, finding journalism “more superficial and meaningless”, he decided to dedicate his time to writing his novel, The Year Of The Hare. He sells his boat to finance the novel which becomes an instant success. From now on Paasilinna is able to live off his writing. He becomes the most acclaimed writer in Finland and in other Scandinavian countries. He is a prolific writer and millions of his books have been sold worldwide.

The Year Of The Hare, Arto Paasilinna’s favourite and most famous novel, has been translated into several languages. It was first published in Finnish in 1975 and in English in 1995. The Year Of The Hare was selected by the Unesco Collection of Representative Works which funded the English translation by Herbert Lomas. It has won three major international awards and was twice adapted for feature films: a Finnish film in 1977 named “Jäniksen vuosi” and a French version in 2006 called: “Le lièvre de Vatanen”.

The middle-aged Finnish journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and his middle-aged colleague photographer,“two dissatisfied, cynical men” are driving back to Helsinki from Heinola, after an assignment for their weekly magazine, when their car hits a leaping leveret. The photographer stops the car and Vatanen goes looking for the wounded animal in the nearby forest. He finds it with a broken left hind leg and holds him in his arms for comfort before nursing him.

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit – cousin of the hare – has represented Hope for Chinese people for a long time and in the Chinese legend, the moon goddess, Chang’e, had a rabbit as a pet.

Vatanen, who is going through a middle-age crisis, instantly senses a bond between him and the leveret, who will become his inseparable companion. From this moment on, Vatanen finds himself magically connected with nature away from the strain, turbulence and rampant consumerism of urban life which he can no longer endure.

Vatanen feels free from all constraints for the first time in his life. He decides to sell his possessions, abandon his wife and his job after realizing that he neither cares for his unloving wife nor for his empty, boring job and travels across Finland’s wild nature away from civilization. Vatanen chooses the path of no return with no regrets, seeking an adventurous new life. A fascinating exchange occurs: the conventional Vatanen becomes an untamed man while the wild hare turns into a domesticated animal. In each others company, man and animal will help one another to heal their afflictions: psychological for one and physical for the other.

During this one year several surreal events happen, Vatanen lives doing odd jobs, repairing a hut or cutting logs in the forest as well as fighting a ferocious forest fire. He even gets engaged to Leila, an attractive young lawyer, while being drunk but once sober he surprisingly has no recollection of taking such an important decision. While living and working in the forest, Vatanen has to fight a ravenous, cheeky raven and a dangerous, vicious bear and follow it across the border to the Soviet Union which leads to his arrest by Russian soldiers accusing him of spying.

The satirical and cynical Year Of The Hare is a story of a dissatisfied, embittered man who takes his courage in hand by giving up everything to fulfill his dreams in the hope of attaining a serene life. It’s a quest for freedom and a journey of exciting adventures. Consequently, this tale unleashes the dream that lies deep inside each one of us: the search for the meaning of life and the yearning to lead a simple harmonious existence in peace with nature beyond the bounds.

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