Tag-Archive for ◊ money ◊

Author:
• Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Helen Simonson was born in Slough, Berkshire in 1964 and spent her teenage years in a small village near Rye in East Sussex, England. She graduated from the London School of Economics where she met her future American husband. She worked as a travel advertising executive and completed a masters degree in creative writing from Stony Brook Southampton, New York.

She has lived in the Washington D.C. Area and Brooklyn, New York, for over twenty years with her husband and two sons.

Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, published in 2010, became a New York Times bestseller and was translated and published in several countries. Her second novel, The Summer Before The War, will be published in 2016.

Edgecombe St Mary is a small village in the English countryside in East Sussex where the two main characters live. Major Ernest Pettigrew, the sixty-eight year old widower, who lost his wife six years earlier, leads a peaceful life in his rural rose-covered cottage called Rose Lodge with a beautiful climbing clematis, the envy of his neighbours. And the good-looking Pakistani widow, ten years his junior, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the village shopkeeper who runs the business with her nephew, Abdul Wahid. Jasmina was born in Cambridge and has been bred by her learned, Anglophile father.

The story starts with the Major still in a daze after the shock following a phone call at dawn from his sister-in-law, announcing his younger brother Bertie’s death from a massive heart attack. Soon after, he answers the door-bell to find Mrs Ali who has come for the newspaper money because the paper-boy is sick. Still feeling the loss of his brother deeply, the major’s knees give way and he is about to faint but Mrs Ali props him up, takes him indoors and sits him down before fetching some water and making him tea.

Major Pettigrew is a conservative, sardonic, well-mannered gentleman who likes to live by his principles. He was born in Lahore and lived in colonial India as a child and is now a retired British Army officer who lives alone. He was happily married to his wife, Nancy, and late in life they had their only son, Roger, who was spoilt by his mother to his father’s discontent. Roger, now in his thirties, works in finance and lives in London. Throughout the novel, the author underlines the major’s disapproval of his insufferably brash son’s lack of respect, tact and bad behaviour.

There is a great cultural divide between the major and his son. The major likes to read classical English authors like Joseph Kipling, John Keats and William Wordsworth. He is a pragmatic person, values traditions, correctness and righteousness. Unlike his father, Roger is an uncultured, manipulative, superficial person, ruthlessly self-seeking, a social-climber who is always attracted to novelties and fashion in all domains. He wants his father to get rid of his beloved books in order to make room for an up-to-date wide-screen television.

The major is sentimental about what he considers his heritage, the valuable pair of heirloom antique guns which were given to his father by a maharajah as a reward for an act of bravery for saving the maharajah’s latest and youngest wife from a train full of murdering thugs. The major’s father, on his death bed, divided the prized Churchill guns between his two sons on the understanding that the two guns were to be reunited when one of the sons died. When Bertie passes away, the major is faced with the greed of his sister-in-law, Marjorie, his niece, Jemima, and his son Roger all wanting to sell the pair of guns and enjoy the money regardless of what the major feels or thinks.

Solid friendship between the major and Mrs Ali flourishes through sharing the same things, like the loss of their respective beloved spouses, their disobliging, bigoted families despite different ethnicity, their love of nature, their passion for literature, especially the works of Samuel Johnson, Joseph Kipling and others. They also have in common a sense of duty as well as being proud, polite and courteous.

The major and Mrs Ali surprise themselves by discovering that their hearts have no wrinkles, they can still feel passion and fall in love again regardless of their advanced age, different experiences in life, different cultural backgrounds and religion. All these elements constitute no barrier to common shared interests, mutual attraction and love.

Helen Simonson undertook a fair amount of research into the Pakistani community in England, the Indian Mughal Empire, shot guns and duck shooting. As for the fictitious towns of Edgecombe St. Mary and Hazelbourne-on-the-Sea, they are a combination of places that the author “knows and loves”.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a well written novel with well depicted, realistic, rich characters where women are portrayed as emancipated, strong, determined characters such as Mrs Jasmina Ali, Mrs Rasool, and Roger’s American fiancée, Sandy.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is an endearingly captivating story underlining the differences between the old and the new generation. Despite the humour one cannot help noticing the blatant fanaticism, veiled racism and the insidious link between money and corruption and how money can deteriorate, divide and destroy families. There is also the romantic story between the two protagonists with the assertion that authentic love transcends all obstacles and all ages so long as one is being true to oneself and because as long as there is life, there is hope.

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Author:
• Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marie Ndiaye is a French national, born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France to a French mother and a Senegalese father. Her parents separated when she was one-year-old with her father leaving for Africa and her eldest brother and herself being brought up in the Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine by their teacher mother.

After finishing primary and secondary schools, NDiaye went to the Sorbonne to study linguistics, which led to her obtaining a grant from the French Academy to stay in the Villa Médicis in Rome.

NDiaye started writing in her teens with her first novel, “Quant au riche avenir”, published in 1985 when she was eighteen years old. She is the most widely read and critically acclaimed, living French writer. To date she has written adults’ and children’s novels, short stories, plays, an essay and a screen play. She received the prix Femina in 2001 for “Rosie Carpe” and the distinguished prix Goncourt in 2009 for Three Strong Women. Her stage play: “Papa doit manger”, became part of the repertory of the prestigious, Comédie Française in 2003.

Marie NDiaye left France in 2007 after Nicolas Sarkozy became president and currently lives with her husband and their three children in Berlin.

Three Strong Women was originally published in French in 2009 and in English in 2012.

Three women, three different fates and two countries: France and Senegal. In the three novellas that form this book, three women: Norah, the lawyer, Fanta, the former literature teacher and Khady Demba, the uneducated servant who becomes a childless widow, all fight against the adversity of life with an unparalleled obsessive determination.

The three stories are loosely intertwined. When Norah, in the first story, is urgently called by her estranged, unloving, overbearing, uncaring father, to leave Paris and join him in Senegal to defend her imprisoned brother, Sony, in court, she meets Khady who works in her father’s house as a maid. Norah is in her late thirties, a successful lawyer in Paris and has a seven-year-old daughter, Lucie. Norah has a complicated life. She has been living a frustratingly unhappy year of her life with her unruly, unemployed, German partner, Jakob, and his seven-year-old daughter, Grete.

In the second story, the Senegalese, Fanta, like her husband Rudy, a French literature teacher in the reputable lycée Mermoz in Dakar, has to quit her job for a teaching position in France promised by Rudy. She follows her disgraced French husband to his native province, la Gironde, in the south west of France with their young son Djibril. Once in France and without a job, Fanta becomes unhappy and reclusive. We learn about her through her lonely failure of a husband, Rudy, who feels remorse for inflicting his low self-esteem torment on his wife. He is depressed, paranoid and suffers from chronic haemorrhoids.

The same Khady Demba, the maid in the first story reappears a few years later in the third story as a destitute, childless widow. She is forced by her in-laws to emigrate to France and send them money after receiving help from a distant cousin, Fanta, who is regarded as being rich because she is teaching and therefore earning a good salary.

Khady Demba, like Norah and Fanta, is not easily deterred in the face of adversity. With an imponderable pride and a discreet unshakeable assurance, she keeps telling herself: I am me, Khady Demba. She is young, healthy and unstoppable. She knows she has nothing, really nothing to lose and additionally she has been told by her mother-in-law before leaving, that if things go wrong she is not to return back to live with them.

The author gives an insight into three types of migration between Africa and Europe and in the case of Khady Demba, the big problem of loss of life among the “Boat people” who are putting themselves in danger in the hope of better living conditions in “rich” European countries.

Through her lengthy (paragraph length) sentences and her incomparable style of writing, NDiaye describes in depth and with great accuracy, in her triptych, the suffering, unhappiness, despair and endurance as well as the distress and painful life of three women. The three protagonists don’t share the same background but nevertheless have a determination for survival and enduring hardship in common, in order to reach their target and impose their identity in a patriarchal world.

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