Tag-Archive for ◊ religion ◊

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:
• Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Kader Abdolah was born in Arak, Iran in 1954. His real name is Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahaniand his pen name is a combined pseudonym in memory of his two executed friends from the resistance. He is the author of novels, short stories and non-fiction as well as being a columnist and poet. From an early age Kader Abdolah wanted to become a writer like his forebear, Ghaemmaghami Farahani.

While studying physics at Teheran University, Abdolah joined an underground left wing movement against the dictatorship of the Shah and later against the authoritarian Khomeini regime.

He wrote articles in an illegal journal and while still in Iran, secretly published two books describing what life was like under the Khomeini rule. He escaped in 1985 and three years later was accepted, at the invitation of the United Nations, as a political refugee in Holland.

Kader Abdolah was quick at mastering the language of his host country as much as writing all his work in Flemish. He received many honours and awards: The Golden Donkey Ear prize in 1994, the Edgar du Perron prize in 2000 for My Father’s Notebook which was first published in Dutch in 2000 and then in English in 2006. He received the 2008 decoration de chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2000 and awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Groningen in 2009. He currently lives in Delft in Holland.

After escaping Iran, Ishmael, the main character and narrator of the novel, like the author himself, becomes a political refugee in the Netherlands. While in exile he receives a parcel containing the notebook that had been written in cuneiform script by his half illiterate deaf-mute father, Aga Akbar, the talented tapestry mender and the illegitimate son of an Iranian nobleman and servant mother. Aga Akbar was acquainted with these scriptures when he was sent by his uncle to copy the three thousand-year-old ancient cuneiform inscriptions chiseled on a cave wall on Saffron Mountain.

These scriptures narrate the story of the first Persian king in history, king Cyrus, who lived 2500 years ago. The author relates historical facts: We are informed that several years later the reign of king Cyrus was followed by the Qajar dynasty which ended in 1921 with a coup d’état staged by Reza Khan. Reza Khan declared himself the new king of Persia and established the Pahlavi Kingdom. He was in turn followed by his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in 1941 and then by his prime minister, Mohamed Mosadeq, from 1951 to 1953. Ayatollah Khomeini follows in 1979 and the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is also mentioned.

Ishmael decides to translate his father’s undecipherable work of a lifetime into Dutch. He feels it is his duty to do this as a painful, nostalgic, fond commemoration to his deceased father and his lost motherland. Throughout the novel, Ishmael recounts a double biography: his father’s life story combined with his own. He also writes about the political and social situation in Iran.

Aga Akbar was about nine years old when his mother died. His uncle, Kazem Khan, who looked after him, realised that his nephew couldn’t read or write. He decided to encourage him by giving him a notebook and asked him to “scribble something”, at least “one page every day. Or maybe just a couple of sentences”, which he did.

My Father’s Notebook blends facts, autobiography and fiction. The novel is about the intertwined past and present of Persian culture going back thousands of years. There are the myths, poetry, geography, religion and unique rich traditions on one side and the depiction of the twentieth century life in Iran on the other. It is also about the unconditional tender love between a son and his disabled father, despite their differences.

The author’s constant navigation between the enchanting past tarnished by Iran’s present bitter reality and his new life in exile in the Netherlands, brings two parallel worlds into focus and in complete opposition due to their entirely different cultures and history – conservative Muslim Iran on the one side and secular Holland on the other.

The novel ends on a sad note tinted with a ray of hope. Golden Bell disappears and her father, Aga Akbar, who accompany her in escape is found dead by a shepherd on a cold snowy mountain. Nevertheless, Golden Bell might still be asleep in the Saffron Mountain waiting to be woken at the right time to witness a new world of justice and freedom in her country. Just like the people mentioned in The Holy Koran in the Surat “The Cave” to which the author refers to in the novel’s prologue and epilogue.

An emotionally poignant story which gives an insight into the humanitarian problems relating to political refugees and their sufferings after being uprooted from their beloved homeland by repressive regimes.

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