Tag-Archive for ◊ 2006.He ◊

Author:
• Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith was born to a Scottish family in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) in 1948, the youngest of four children. His father worked in Rhodesia as a public prosecutor, in what was then a British colony. His mother wrote a number of unpublished manuscripts. After finishing school in Rhodesia, McCall Smith moved to Scotland to study Law at Edinburgh University.

After graduating, he worked as a professor in Scotland,then returned to Botswana to teach law at the University that he managed to create.

Alexander McCall Smith is an expert on genetics, he held roles in a number of national and international Bioethics Commission of UNESCO. He retired as a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University in 2005 due to his belated success as a writer. His other commitments could not be pursued because he preferred to dedicate his time to writing books and playing bassoon in an amateur orchestra that he co-founded in 1995, called “The Really Terrible Orchestra”. He currently lives in Edinburgh with Dr. Elisabeth Parry whom he married in 1982 and their two daughters.

McCall Smith twice received the Booker Prize for The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in 1998 and in 2004 he was named “Author of the Year” by the Booksellers Association and British Book Awards. In 2006 he was appointed a CBE -Commander of the Order of the British Empire- for services to literature and was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law in Edinburgh in 2007.

Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific and diverse writer; he produced an abundant and varied number of books ranging from children tales to picture books to legal text books to novels. But he became internationally known through his Botswana detective series first published in1998. The series in English sold millions of copies round the world and was translated into many languages. It was made into a television series and broadcast on BBC1 in 2008.

Tears of the Giraffe published in 2000 is the second Botswana detective story taken from the author’s Botswana series of nine novels. The first was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Then followed Morality of Beautiful Girls in 2001, The Kalahari Typing School for Men 2001, The Full Cupboard of Life 2003, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies 2004, Blue Shoes and Happiness 2006, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive 2007, The Miracle of Speedy Motors 2008.

McCall Smith was born and raised in Africa, which helped him in his writing to successfully convey the essence of the African landscape, culture and society in its real day-to-day life and in all its complexity especially between the old and the new traditions and values. He doesn’t omit to describe, through his well developed and uncomplicated characters, the genuine Botswanan’s sense of courtesy and dignity which impressed him when he lived there and which stand out more in his books than the detective stories.

His style of writing is clear, passionate, charming and warm hearted which make his novels very popular even in Botswana where people liked the way the author portrayed their world. That is because they probably felt that, despite being a foreigner, he understood deeply the Botswanan’s nature.

Precious Ramotswe reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s miss Marple, is the star of the series, she owns the first female private detective agency in Botswana and probably in the whole of Africa. She deals with problems related to human lives more than serious crimes. An American mother who missed her son in a commune on the outskirts of the Kalahari desert ten years ago, seeks out Mma Ramotswe’s help to discover how and why her son died.

Mma Ramotswe, being kind and having lost a child in the past, accepts the sterile case out of compassion. The second case, a butcher who wants to know if his wife is cheating on him. The detective gives the simple case to her, now promoted secretary to the job of assistant, to investigate. Makutsi discovers that the wife has been cheating on her husband and that their son is not his. The moral issue arises: is it not better to protect an adulterer wife to avoid greater damage to the son’s future? There follows the debate between Mma Ramotswe and Makutsi over a cup of bush tea, about doing wrong in order to attain the right outcome.

Precious Ramotswe was not trained for detective work, yet she is successful because she relies mainly on her accurate intuition, her intelligence and wisdom and also on her valuable Principles of Private Detection manual. She is an old fashioned lady with old fashioned principles, just like the two other main, endearing characters in the book, her kind fiancé Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the master mechanic of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and her trustworthy secretary/assistant Mma Makutsi.

The deep and detailed description of the main characters reveals a very positive portrait of the Botswanan people. They are hospitable, compassionate and value genuine love, taking their commitments seriously.

The author reveals to the readers at the end of the novel the meaning of its poetic title, when Ramotswe solves the mystery of the dead American son and offers the mother a traditional Botswana basket, woven with the giraffes’ tears; the only present a giraffe can offer.

In one of his interviews Smith admits that when he wrote the first book of the series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, he became so fond of the character of Precious Ramotswe that he could not let her go.

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Author:
• Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Javier Cercas was born in Ibahemando in Caceras in Spain in 1962. In 1980 he was a teacher for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA. Since 1989 he has been a lecturer in Spanish literature at the University of Gerona in Spain where he lives.

He is a constant contributor to the Catalan edition of El Pais newspaper and the Sunday supplement. Javier Cercas is a novelist and essayist. He received several literary prizes for his book about the Spanish civil war, Soldiers of Salamis, published in 2001. It was translated into fifteen languages, sold about half a million copies and was made into a film. He also wrote:
The Motive in 1987
The Tenant in 1989
The Belly of the Whale in 1997
True Tales in 2000
The Speed of Light in 2006

The Speed of Light (La Velocidad de la Luz) is a short book covering a period of sixteen years, in which the author deals with many themes: Guilt, the impossibility of redemption, the difficulty of forgetting the too painful past, the true significance of success and failure and how success can be a source of corruption, the suppressed evil in human nature, psychological trauma due to the Vietnam war and also the valuable legacy of a writer. “I write novels about the adventure of writing novels” Cercas said.

The novel begins with the quiet and uneventful life of the nameless narrator in Barcelona, then his life in Urbana in the USA where he becomes a teacher of Spanish for two years. The climax is reached towards the middle of the book, with the discovery of Rodney Falk’s involvement in the Vietnam war, which will shed a light on Rodney’s solitude and peculiar behaviour. The story comes full circle at the end of the novel, when the narrator concludes that fame like war, can destroy a person’s life. That is the main strong tie that linked Rodney to the narrator, and what made the narrator obsessed with Rodney’s mysterious past, in particular about what happened in My Khe by the elite fighting unit called Tiger Force, of which Rodney was a part.

The book is not about the Vietnam war only. The Vietnamese war was used to illustrate the author’s message, about how a healthy-minded and ambitious young person (like the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness, which takes place in the Belgian Congo and the same Kurtz in the Francis Ford Coppola film about the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now), can turn into a monster due to harsh circumstances. Like success and fame can also be strongly damaging to a man.

It’s “the reality of evil, the impossibility of redemption” and the catastrophe of fame. Cercas suggests in his novel that one can be successful without falling into narcissism. The narrator analyses himself as well as his friend Rodney throughout the novel and enjoys his lengthy literary and witty conversation with him.

Although the novel never reveals the narrator’s name, the narrator in The Speed of Light is none other than the author himself. Like the narrator, Cercas has also taught Spanish in Urbana for two years and while he was living there he met a Vietnam war veteran who was sitting on a bench, watching some children play ball. Cercas then asked himself: “What does that man’s look hide? What is he doing there?” That image, which refers to Rodney Falk’s character, was the starting point of the novel. Cercas, like the narrator, had also a very big success with his book about the Spanish civil war called Soldiers of Salamis. Too many similarities.

Like the French novelist, Marcel Proust, Javier Cercas, in The Speed of Light, has a heavy style of writing long sentences, some of which can extend to almost a page.

Cercas said in one of his interviews: “Most writers, or at least myself, don’t have motivations before writing a book. I decide to write a novel to solve a question that I have asked myself, and as I write the novel, I begin raising moral, political, and other types of issues… Novelists aim at persuading their audience that what they are reading is true… I invite my readers to join me in the process of writing the novel. So on one hand I tell them, “this is a novel”, and on the other, “this is completely true; this has happened to me and it could happen to you”. It’s all about shaking the reader’s conscience”.

Cercas, when asked why he likes to write books about wars, answered: “There is a story my mother has told me hundreds of times that’s always fascinated me. The beginnings of my interest in the war may well stem from this. It’s the story of the family hero, her handsome sixteen-year-old uncle”. He went to war, died as a hero, and was never forgotten by his niece.

The narrator mentioned twice in the book about traveling at the speed of light in order to uncover the future, once towards the middle in page 106, and the second time towards the end in page 253. He said: “I had the impression that everything had accelerated, that everything had started to run faster than usual, faster and faster, faster, faster, and at some moment there had been a blaze, a maelstrom and a loss, I thought I’d unknowingly traveled faster than the speed of light and what I was now seeing was the future”.