Tag-Archive for ◊ Wild ◊

Author:
• Sunday, November 01st, 2015

Gerbrand Bakker was born in 1962 in Wieringerwaard, Holland. He studied Dutch language and worked as a subtitler for nature films on Dutch television for several years as well as a skating instructor during the winter before becoming an accredited gardener in 2006. Bakker says that writing and gardening complement each other.

Bakker’s first novel, The Twin, was published in 2006 and won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His second novel, June, was published in 2009. The Detour, Bakker’s third novel, won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and was published in Dutch in 2010 and in English in 2012.

The Detour is the story of a middle-aged Dutch woman who calls herself Emilie. On what seems a sudden impulse, she rents a farmhouse in a remote area of North Wales, leaving everything behind in Amsterdam – all her worries, her husband and both her parents without telling anybody about her whereabouts.

Emilie, who only took the farmhouse on rental and is not likely to remain in it for long nor had the intention to and despite been given short notice from the agency to leave in a matter of a few days, is nevertheless working hard to embellish the wild and desolate garden and surroundings. She also purchases a Christmas tree as well as a television set. In her endeavour, she is trying to bury her past by finding peace and comfort physically and mentally as a therapeutic pass time.

Emilie spends her days gardening, walking, admiring the far away sea and nature around her, observing an aggressive badger who sneaks out of his den and bites her foot. She puzzles about the flock of white geese in her yard which were ten when she arrived but keep on disappearing one after another, she tries to save them from what she thinks might be a fox, but fails. Their curious disappearance will never be solved like other inexplicable mysteries in the story.

Emilie’s solitary confinement comes to an end when Bradwen, a young Welsh man from the area, who is mapping a walking trail across the country and across Emilie’s farm yard, gets injured near Emilie’s farm. She offers him shelter but he ends up staying with her longer than the expected one night. Bradwen will prove to be a good companion, being taciturn like her. He will also prove to be a good help around the house and the garden. A certain understanding combined with a tender relationship creates a bond between them.

The story moves back and forth between Emilie’s new life in Wales and her husband Rutger’s life in Amsterdam. Rutger is baffled by his wife’s unexpected disappearance and seeks the help of a detective to trace her whereabouts. Once located, the husband with the help of a policeman who arrested him earlier for setting Emilie’s university office on fire out of anger and who meantime became his friend, both set sail and go on Emilie’s trail.

The reader unravels Emilie’s enigmatic world slowly, but not fully, in little strokes by half-said words, through meditations and several reminiscences. We discover that Emilie is a lecturer at the university and that she is preparing a thesis on the nineteenth century reclusive American poet Emily Dickinson. We also assume that she has an unhappy marriage.

Seeking anonymity in her escape and wanting to put an end to any past connection and create a vacuum by keeping her distance with everybody, she borrows the name of Emilie from the poet Emily Dickinson that she had a sort of love hate feeling towards and looked upon in disdain in spite of being aware of similarities in character between the poet and herself. The author throughout the novel draws the similitude between the two Emilies.

The reader also discovers that the story’s main protagonist fled Holland after the university scandal as a result of having an affair with a student which ended her academic career. Additionally, she seems to be suffering from an undisclosed, incurable disease. After receiving a card from her husband telling her he is on his way to fetch her, the message hastens her final, inevitable decision before her husband’s arrival. At the abrupt end of this haunting story we learn, for the first time, from Rutger that his wife’s real name is Agnes.

The detour is also a tribute to nature which is a prominent character in this well written, slow-paced and yet gripping novel. The author, being a gardener by profession, features the beauty of nature in what remains an overall gloomy atmosphere. He describes the part of North Wales – he said he visited a number of times – in great detail. The idyllic Welsh wildlife, the surrounding trees, the plants, the green hills, Mount Snowdon and the varying climate, not forgetting the animals, being part of nature.

Emilie who is clearly grieving over her past life and over her deteriorating state of health, is a tormented soul seeking an impossible, unattainable peace within herself, forgetting that it’s impossible to escape from oneself by fleeing. Instead of confronting her problems with some pragmatism, she stages an inevitable, abrupt, harsh ending to her life. The sombre atmospheric setting of The Detour is like Emily Dickinson’s poems – it’s about Life, Love, Nature. Time and Eternity as well as Death.

The title of the novel implies that Emilie is taking a detour maybe in order to be isolated among the beautifully remote Welsh nature or perhaps to enjoy her own company away from everything and before her final and ineluctable destination or perhaps destiny. Bakker has definitely left his reader to draw his/her own conclusion.

Author:
• Friday, April 29th, 2011

Fadia Faqir was born in 1956 in Amman, Jordan to a conservative family where she was one of nine children. She obtained her BA degree in English Literature from the University of Amman, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, England.

In 1990 Fadia Faqir was awarded the first Ph.D in Critical and Creative Writing by the University of East Anglia. She was the senior editor of the Arab Women Writers Series, for which she received the 1995 New Venture Award.

Fadia Faqir is a defender of human rights, especially in the Arab world. She is a member of the Board of Al-Raida, a feminist journal published by the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She now lives with her Hungarian, Irish, English, husband in Durham in the north of England.

Fadia Faqir has written three novels to date :
Nisanit in 1990.
Pillars of Salt in 1998.
My Name Is Salma in 2007 which was published in several countries and translated into fourteen languages.
She has also written some short stories and play scripts.

Young Salma is a wild Muslim Arab shepherdess who likes playing the reed pipe to her goats, frolicking in nature and swimming in the river. She lives with her parents and elder brother, Mahmoud, in Hima, in a bedouin village in the Levant. Her family is very conservative, consequently her care-free life ends when she gets pregnant out of wedlock by her young lover, Hamdan, which brings dishonour upon her family.

She has to escape before her brother kills her, so as to purify the family’s blood and restore their honour, by taking refuge in the Islah prison where she gives birth to a baby girl. But Salma’s baby girl is snatched out of her arms at birth by her cell mate, Noura and given to the prison warden to put in a home for illegitimate children, despite Salma’s shouting and screaming to retain her.

Salma is then smuggled into Lebanon by a nun and lives in a convent before seeking refuge and safety in England and settling in the city of Exeter. It is difficult for the unsophisticated bedouin young woman to be so abruptly uprooted and reject her upbringing, confront a different culture and meld Salma into Sal or Sally, her English adopted names.

Salma tries to adopt a good English accent and manners from her elderly English landlady, Elizabeth, but will always remain and feel an alien outside her village. She can’t bury the past which haunts her constantly and certainly can’t forget Layla, the daughter she left behind and yearns for and who will be the end of her.

Salma is torn between wanting to live and her feeling of guilt, which according to her beliefs, deserves death as punishment. Her defiant character pushes her to seek a job as a seamstress and to take a second job in the evening in a hotel bar in order to make more money to be able to pay her bills. She even enrolls in an English literature course in the Open University to improve her English and marries her Geordie teacher, John Robson, and bears him a baby son, Imran.

Salma even has a social life as she becomes a close friend of the retired Welsh headmistress, Gwen and also enjoys the friendship of Parvin, a Pakistani young woman who, like Salma, escaped from her family to avoid an arranged marriage imposed on her by her father.

Both young women have in common the feeling of injustice dictated by their family’s inherited, intransigent conventions and the fear of being caught by their kin after breaking away. Salma and Parvin are vulnerable, insecure and apprehensive about their future. They form a good match and therefore become of invaluable support and comfort to each other.

Nevertheless, Salma can’t help perceiving herself as a sinner and therefore unworthy of living. An infidel who is no longer a Muslim, an impure, a kind of a living filth who deserves to be beaten to death. She has an obstinate, strong character and determination for survival combined with a strain of self-hatred and self-destruction.

The whole novel is narrated by Salma who gives her point of views about her past and her present by random flashbacks between the Middle East and England, which at times disrupt the smooth running sequence of the narration. The author declares that the structure of the novel is deliberate in order to convey that Salma felt alienated from both communities: the permissive West and her very conservative own community.

The main subject of the novel deals with cross-cultures, oppression, violence against women and the position of the female gender in society in certain patriarchal communities, portrayed by the author through honour killings and forced marriages. Serious and complex subjects treated with skill and with a pinch of humour.

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