Author Archive

• Friday, November 25th, 2022

Han Suyin is the pen name of Rosalie Matilda Kuang-Hou Chou. She was born in 1917 in Xinyang, China, Henan province, to a Chinese father from a landowning family in Sichuan province and a Belgian mother of aristocratic descent.

Han Suyin graduated from Yenching University in Peking, obtained a bachelor of science degree from the University of Brussels and a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1948 from London University. In 1949 she worked as a physician at a hospital in Hong Kong, working during the day and writing at night.

Her first semi-autobiographical novel, A Many Splendoured Thing, published in 1952, was a big success creating the author’s international literary reputation. In 1960 Han Suyin dropped her medical practice and dedicated herself full-time to lecturing and writing.

Han Suyin wrote several novels, mainly in English and French, set in East and Southeast Asia, autobiographical memoirs on modern China, multiple volumes of memoirs and complimentary biographies of Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, as well as two essays. She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2012.

In 2008 the Swiss canton of Valais and the non-governmental foundation, “Espace-Enfants”, erected a sculpture in her honour in Saint-Pierre de Clages “to express their appreciation for Han Suyin to have chosen the French-speaking part of Switzerland to live.” Saint-Pierre de Clages is a small village in the municipality of Chamoson known as the Swiss “book town” with an annual book festival.

The Enchantress, published in 1985, is a historical fiction story that follows the twin sister and brother Duriez from 1752 to 1785. The story starts in Vidy, a hamlet near Lausanne in the French- speaking part of Switzerland where the Duriez family lives.

The father, an heir to a barony, but he never mentions it, is a skilful clockwork robot maker (automata). The mother, a Celtic priestess, is a talented linen and lace embroiderer as well as a gifted healer. And then there are their children; the twins Bea and Colin and the adopted son Valentin.

Colin inherited his father’s talents for building and activating robotics and Bea took after her mother by using supernatural powers. Bea and Colin share an interdependent relationship, being able to speak to each other through their mind, even over far distances.

After their parents’ tragic burning as witches by the local people, the three children undertake a long voyage. It starts in southern India, followed by east China settling in the opulent, paradisical capital of the Thai kingdom island of Golden Ayuthia – the enchantress – run by king Ekatat. The twins hope to succeed in selling their automata there which are very popular among the rich and the royals.

Ayuthia is a Thai kingdom island that only existed from 1350 to 1767. During its short existence, before its destruction by the Burmese king Mangra, Ayuthia was one of the world’s most important places for trading and diplomacy. The Burmese destroyed it because the Thai king Ekatat refused to release weapons for his army to fight back, fearing these arms might be used against him. In 1991, a section of Ayuthia’s historical park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Enchantress is a complex, ambitious, romantic, historical story intertwined with a fairy tale reminiscent of the middle eastern folk tale One Thousand And One Nights. The characters in the novel are well depicted and described with compassion by the author.

The story covers several topics of interest; people’s appeal for the automata at the time of the eighteen century, the influence of the Jesuit missionaries upon the natives, the strong anti-Semitism in Europe, how trade was run between east and west and the lifestyle of Palaces and the wealthy nobility.

It is a charming tale full of characters and well-researched events. The details are colourful and evocative, complementing the author’s powerful, elegant writing style. It is altogether an enjoyable read that transports the reader to a fascinating world of wonders with beautiful nature, palaces and wealth, as well as cruel torturing and killing.

If you enjoyed reading this article or found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a cup of coffee to help maintain the site...
• Saturday, March 27th, 2021

Marjan Kamali was born in 1971 in Turkey to Iranian parents. Her father being a diplomat, the family moved around the world a great deal and left Iran three years after the 1979 Iranian revolution and moved to Queens in New York.

Kamali studied English Literature at Berkeley University of California and received a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children.

Kamali had had a chance meeting with one of her old professors from Berkeley, the late Leonard Michaels, who had read the short story she had written about the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker and remarked: “You know what this is, don’t you? It’s the first chapter to your first novel”.

Kamali took her professor’s advice and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts for Creative Writing Program at New York University. Moreover, in her partly autobiographical first award-winning novel, Together Tea, published in 2013, which has been translated into several languages and adapted for the stage, she did not forget to include the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker, the method the mother used to find a suitable husband for her daughter.

The story of Together Tea starts in 1996 after the Iranian Rezayi family emigrates to New York. The novel focuses mainly on the mother, Darya, and her twenty-five-year-old daughter, Mina, their relationship, determination and self-confidence.

Mina, who: “knew how to swing her legs on that hyphen that defined and denied who she was: Iranian-American. Neither the first word nor the second really belonged to her. Her place was on the hyphen, and on the hyphen, she would stay … like a seasoned acrobat; she would balance there perfectly, never falling, never choosing either side over the other, content with walking that thin line”. So she carries the heritage of her family’s past, while her future, combined with her success, belongs to her adopted country.

Unlike Parviz, her husband, Darya, Mina’s mother, finds adapting to her new life and surroundings insurmountable. She is a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to speak her mind. She is Iranian born and intends to remain one by maintaining her culture, practices and customs. Moreover, now that her daughter has reached twenty-five, she is very keen to find her a suitable Iranian husband, and Darya being a good mathematician, prepares a spreadsheet for eligible Iranian-American suitors.

Narratives from the viewpoint of mother and daughter alternate between chapters. They both have similar characters but opposite outlooks on life; Darya, being brought up in a conservative family in Iran and out of respect for her parents, had to marry the husband chosen for her, while Mina, who came to the West as a child, has a different attitude and wants to marry the man she approves of without disrespecting her parents.

In an interview, the author explains her choice of title for the novel. She says: “The title is actually a phrase that my Farsi-speaking mother-in-law uses when she speaks English. She says, “Would you like to have together, tea?”. I used this phrase as the title because tea is such a huge part of Persian life. Throughout the novel, many characters meet over tea and pivotal conversations between Darya and Mina, Darya and Sam, Mina and Ramin, Darya, Parviz and Sam etc. are conducted over tea”.

Together Tea is a book about an uprooted family fleeing the theocratic government in their country and how each family member overcomes the cultural shock in his or her way and tries to adjust to new surroundings in their adopted country. It is a challenge not uncommon to the majority of migrants all over the world.

The author says about her novel: “I was really inspired because I had been reading books about multicultural experiences and experiences of families immigrating (sic) to the U.S., but I felt I had never read a book that kind of reflected the experience of my own family’s journey … I wanted to write a story that explored the Iranian American experience”.

Together Tea is a touching, enjoyable, entertaining story with an insight into the Iranian lifestyle before and after the 1979 revolution. A colourful description of Persian traditions, culture as well as several appetising details of culinary dishes of which Kamali says: “I did not set out to include so much food – it’s just impossible for me to write about an Iranian family without including the preparation of food and the huge Persian feasts that occur at parties and family get-togethers!” (sic).

In Together Tea, the author illustrates the power of love bonds, peoples sufferings, hopes, resilience, and the search for new identity and belonging. The characters are well depicted and inspire readers’ empathy, and the dialogue does not lack spice.