Author Archive

• Friday, May 24th, 2019

Laurie Lico Albanese is an American writer who grew up in Long Island, New York. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and has written fiction, poetry, journalism, creative non-fiction and memoirs. Albanese is also a specialist in the field of tourism and travel.

In 2014 she obtained a Master Of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine and received the New Jersey State Council in the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing and a Catherine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught and tutored writers for more than fifteen years and from 2004 to 2008 she also taught at Wagner College on Staten Island, where she developed a memoir writing class.

Her poems, short stories, journalistic works and novels have received many awards. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, a publishing executive, and her two children.

Stolen Beauty, published in 2017, is Laurie Lico Albanese’s fourth novel. It is a fictitious story with an authentic background and real people. It depicts the life and relationship of a young, wealthy, married Jewish Austrian woman, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who becomes the muse and lover of the famous Austrian secessionist, symbolist and avant-garde artist and painter, Gustav Klimt. The story is set in Austria at the time of rising anti-semitism leading up to the second world war stretching to the beginning of the years two thousand. The reader follows the chain of horrible events of anti-semitism and the second world war through the narrative of Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann.

The author explains in painful, lingering detail – most chapters taking place in 1938 – this disquieting and traumatic period of the history of the persecution of the Jews following the German Nazi invasion of Austria in the nineteen thirties. In contrast, Laurie Lico Albanese chooses not to provide her readers with sufficient background about Gustav Klimt’s life and art.

Nevertheless, the bright Jewish biblical figure, the widow Judith, who is wealthy, courageous as well as being beautiful and The Woman In Gold, two of Gustav Klimt’s well-known works of art, both featuring Adele Bloch-Bauer, are an essential part of the plot. The author describes all the events behind their conception and achievement as well as the imminent danger of their elimination.

In 1941 the Nazis stole the iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who died from meningitis in 1925. After the second world war, the painting was exhibited at the Austrian Galerie Belvedere, according to Adele’s will, although she had left all her assets to her husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Baeur to dispose of as he wishes. When Ferdinand died in 1945, he bequeathed his entire estate to his nephew and two nieces.

Adele Bloch-Bauer’s heirs, who were long waiting for justice, had to endure a strenuous long court battle with the Austrian Authorities for the restitution of the portrait. Maria Altmann’s lawyer took her case to the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled on the matter: the Republic Of Austria versus Altmann in 2004. Adele Bloch-Bauer’s heirs succeeded and the painting was restored to its rightful owner. It was sold the same year to the Neue Galerie in New York, where it hangs today, for a hundred and thirty-five million dollars, a record sum of money for a painting at the time.

The story of Stolen Beauty is told by Adele, alternating with the story of her Jewish niece, Maria, the daughter of Adele’s sister, Thedy. The two women have in common their courage, endurance and determination to pursue their aim against all the odds. The chapters are interlaced with the two of them going back and forth between 1889 and 2006. The author says: “I write historical fiction based on the lives of real people and put women at the centre of those stories”.

The readers get a glimpse of the glamorous, golden days of Austria’s cultivated high society under the Habsburg reign, before its dark period of Nazi occupation. The time when Vienna was considered one of the main cities for art and culture. The days it harboured the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, as well as all sorts of modern thinkers. There were home-held cultural salons by wealthy supporters of the arts and science, not forgetting the sought-after ballroom dances of debutantes and the stylish, leisurely coffee houses, highly cherished by the Viennese.

Stolen Beauty is a story of a wealthy Viennese Jewish family, dispossessed of all their wealth during the Nazi occupation and the courage of two women unconventionally ahead of their time. Coupled with the story behind Klimt’s paintings and in particular, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer called, The Woman In Gold. Other topics addressed in the novel include endurance, passion, art, marriage and fidelity as well as political hatred and violence combined with alarming anti-semitism and the devastation and tragedy of the second world war. The author has thoroughly researched European art and history, including interesting imaginary conversations.

• Friday, April 26th, 2019

Selina Siak Chin Yoke was born into a Malayan-Chinese family in Singapore, which at the time was part of Malaya, becoming Malaysia in 1963. In 1979 Selina was sent to study at a boarding school in Kent, England with some of her school friends. She later studied physics at Southampton University, obtaining a PhD scholarship.

With her degrees in hand she worked for the Atlas Research Fellowship at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, followed by investment banking at Goldman Sachs in London. After her brain cancer, she changed to quantitative trading before dedicating herself full-time to writing. Selina Siak Chin Yoke presently lives in London, England.

Having undergone two major operations – brain cancer in 2009 followed by breast cancer, Selina felt apathetic for a while until she remembered an old dream about writing a story, vaguely influenced by the life of her Nyonya great-grandmother, Chua Paik Choo, to whose memory “The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds” is dedicated. A book that helped Selina Siak to re-discover her roots, she says.

Following the success of her first novel, published in 2016, Selina Siak published her second book “When The Future Comes So Soon” in 2017. It is assigned to her maternal grandmother, Chang Kim Eng, “whose experiences served as the inspiration for this story” Selina says.

“When The Future Comes Too Soon” is a new addition to the Malayan series but can be read as an independent, self-sufficient novel. It follows the middle-class Wong family during three and a half years of the second world war and the Japanese occupation of Malaya, through the life of Mei Foong, Weng Yu’s wife and Chye Hoon’s first daughter-in-law.

The matriarch, Chye Hoon, dies on the eve of the second world war, leaving her family to fend for themselves. Mei Foong is five months pregnant with her fifth child when the British colonisers flee Malaya followed by the Japanese invasion of the country. She struggles to feed her family and make ends meet due to galloping inflation and scarcity during this bleak period of the second world war.

The main character, Mei Foong, is a Malayan-Chinese woman who narrates the story from her viewpoint. She is a strong, intelligent, resilient woman who, due to circumstances, discovers her inner strength. She can take challenges and undergo hardship to survive and keep her family together.

She is a likeable person – illustrated on the book’s front cover – a determined look on her face, despite the Japanese warplanes in the background, as opposed to her husband, an unlikeable, unsympathetic, selfish character. He is cruel to his wife, making it easy for her to be attracted to Chew Hock San, who shows her more attention, appreciation and sympathy.

Mei Foong, although raised in an upper-middle-class family, is resourceful when things get tough, hence her resentment for her aggrieved and faint-hearted husband, Weng Yu, and her loss of all esteem for him. Weng Yu cannot accept the situation his country is confronting and refuses to accept the challenge he finds himself facing overnight after leading a carefree life. He spends his time listening to classical music and gambling, leaving his wife to fend for herself and her family on her own.

In her first novel: “The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds” the author describes an enchanting journey of myths as well as long-established traditions that have continued for many generations in this part of the world. It is a culture where grandmothers tell their grandchildren bewitching tales of genies and fearsome warriors with magic swords. One of the main themes is the emphasis on the importance of protecting one’s own cultural identity and traditions from fading away through time in a changing world.

The book also depicts the vibrant, colourful food as an integral part of the story and is one of its essential themes: the frying of garlic, the toasting of dried shrimp paste mixed with chopped chillies producing “a pungent aroma in the air” and the making of different kinds of pickles and the varieties of Malayan kueh (cakes).

In her second novel: “When The Future Comes Too Soon”, Selina Siak uses a faster pace compared to her first book. This is owing to the seriousness of the subject (world war two) she is tackling, i.e. the harshness and brutality of humans towards each other during wars and invasions and in particular, the savage behaviour the Japanese inflicted on the Malayans – abandoned by their British ruler – bringing pain and misery on harmless, defenceless people.

Other themes in the novel are love, loyalty, betrayal and regrets as well as the difficulty for some marriages to survive under rough conditions and unexpected afflictions.

Selina Siak said: “In writing historical fiction, historical accuracy is vital to me”. Therefore, the author had to undertake thorough research. “She cross-checked facts and used a mix of sources: archives, libraries, the Internet, anecdotes from interviews and subject experts. she also reflects the world as it was in her stories”.

“When The Future Comes So Soon” is a compelling, skilfully written book with a great deal of intense feeling. It is about being taken by surprise when the future arrives faster than expected, creating confusion and devastation by upsetting the daily routine once lived in peace.

The characters are vividly portrayed; thus we commiserate with their misfortune, suffering and endeavours to survive the brutal Japanese occupation, each one in her or his own way.