Tag-Archive for ◊ Afghanistan ◊

• Friday, April 27th, 2012

Colum MacCann was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965 and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology. He obtained a BA degree from the University of Texas and was awarded an honorary degree by the Dublin Institute Of Technology. Starting as a journalist, he worked for The Irish Press, The New York Times, The Times, La Repubblica, Die Zeit, The Guardian and the Independent. He now teaches Creative Writing at City University of New York’s Hunter College.

In 2005 he was nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Everything In This Country Must.
He received the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

In 2009 he was the National Book Award Winner for his novel, Let The Great World Spin.
In 2011 he received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2010 the Ambassador Book Award.
He was awarded the French Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010.

He now lives with his wife and three children in New York.

Colum MacCann has written two collections of short stories and five novels to date which have been translated into thirty languages:
Fishing The Sloe-Black River 1994
Songdogs 1995
This Side Of Brightness 1998
Everything In This Country Must 2000
Dancer 2003
Zoli 2006
Let The Great World Spin 2009

Colum MacCann masterfully inter-connects the everyday life of people living in New York City in the seventies and makes one story out of what seems to be a series of short stories.

Let The Great World Spin starts with the genuine, illegal stunt of the French funambulist, Philippe Petit. Petit manages to successfully cross the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in Manhattan on his tightrope at a tremendous height in August 1974, to the amazement and apprehension mixed with suspense of the onlookers down below in the street. This event forms the backbone and recurrent theme of the story, since each one of the characters has something meaningful happening on that memorable day and maybe they were also leading a “tightrope walk” kind of life.

Nobody knew in August 1974, one year after the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers were completed and functioning, at a time when U.S. soldiers were returning home from Vietnam, that in September 2001, the world’s attention would be focused on the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers with horror, panic and fear after their attack and tragic destruction. No one could have guessed either, that American soldiers would be sent to fight another war, this time in Iraq followed by Afghanistan, as an act of revenge instead of seeking other means for putting things right.

As MacCann puts it, referring to the tightrope walker, Philippe Petit: “The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty seven years later.” A stunning contrast.

Colum MacCann depicts with great empathy, the suffering, loneliness, expectation and hopes of the various characters in his novel, in order to give his readers a sort of a kaleidoscopic picture of The Big Apple and its inhabitants in those years. A picturesque illustration of New York City which is described as an important character in the story in such an authentic way that one feels catapulted there among all these people.

There is the Irish monk, Corrigan, who wishes to live an ascetic life and likes to believe that he is a soul saviour but finds it difficult to reach a compromise between his beliefs and reality. He he has a good deal of compassion for the prostitutes working in his neighbourhood, the Bronx and actively tries to defend them. He seems to be at a loss about how to deal with his love of Adelita, the Guatemalan nurse, and his spiritual commitment to celibacy in the Catholic Church

Ciaran, his two years elder brother, has a completely different character. His view on life is dissimilar to his sibling and he tries, but never succeeds, in convincing his younger brother to change his ways. Ciaran ends up marrying the artist, Lara, who feels guilty after being involved with Blaine, her driver and now ex-husband, in the fatal car accident that kills Corrigan and his passenger, the young prostitute, Jazzlyn.

Then there is Claire and her husband, judge Solomon Sonderberg, who live on Park Avenue, an expensive area in New York and who are trying, each one in his own way, to deal with their grieving over the loss of their only child, Joshua, who died in an explosion in a coffee shop in Vietnam while being there as an American recruit.

In one of his interviews, Colum MacCann mentions that in his novel it all starts with the “angel” like figure in the sky, seen as a speck of dust to the people standing many meters below. Before the author goes down to explore the core of the city, where he tries to capture the voices of the New Yorkers, the ordinary people in the street “find what is meaningful for the human heart… Find joy and redemption” through the interesting different characters. People who form the heart and soul of this big metropolis.

The image of redemption is portrayed in the adoption of Jazzlin’s little twin girls by Gloria, meaning the end of the prostitution legacy of their mother and grandmother. Colum MacCann says in a conversation with Nathan Englander, the American author: “When two little girls emerge from a Bronx housing complex and get rescued by strangers. That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up… It’s important to say that this is my own emotional response to 9/11”. McCann projects his optimism through his characters, by implying that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.

When asked which character he likes most, he says Tillie, the thirty eight year old black American prostitute granny from the Bronx but especially the Irish priest, Corrigan.

A very well constructed novel, like a spider’s web, where everything connects. The characters are painted with extreme authenticity. They all have the vulnerability in common and whether rich, humble or destitute, each one in his own way shares with the other, the need for love and recognition.

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• Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Born in Norway in 1970, Asne Seierstad studied Russian, Spanish and History of philosophy at Oslo University. She has worked as war correspondent in war-torn regions, like Chechnya in Russia between 1993 and 1996. Then from 1998 to 2000 she reported on the war in Kosovo for the Norwegian television.

In the Autumn 2001 she spent three months in Afghanistan, and in 2003 she reported on the war in Iraq. She received many awards for her good journalism. Asne Seierstad is fluent in five languages.

The Bookseller of Kabul was first published in 2002. It sold 220.000 copies in Norway alone, which made it the Norwegian non-fiction best-seller book of all time in the history of the country.

In the UK it was the best selling non English language book of 2004. The Bookseller of Kabul has been translated into fourteen languages.

After spending three months among soldiers, reporting, travelling by horse and by foot in Afghanistan, Asne came across Sultan Khan (Shah Mohammed Rais) in his book shop in Kabul at the Intercontinental hotel. She was very pleased to meet this well educated, English-speaking native who managed to keep his trade going through all the hard time the country has endured.

He was arrested, sent to jail, and his shop was destroyed. First the communists burned his books, then the mujahideen looted and pillaged, and finally the Taliban burnt them all over again.

Sultan Khan allowed Asne Seierstad, a western journalist to live with his family and write a book about them and about the newly liberated Kabul. Such generous hospitality allowed Asne Seierstad to stay with the family for three months. She could speak English with Sultan Khan, his eldest son Mansur and his nineteen year old sister Leila, who have been educated in Pakistan. They provided her with all the information she needed to learn about the family. As a western journalist lady, Seierstad could mix with men as well as women.

The Bookseller of Kabul is written more like a journalistic reportage than literature. The main character is Sultan Khan who is described as a selfish, ruthless,cruel despot who denies his children educational opportunities, and yet knows the value of books and education. He is a well educated engineer, he is liberal in his thinking, he reads a great deal, he believes in the freedom of speech, and but he is conservative in every way.

After his father’s death he becomes the head of the family and no one can oppose his will. He is not liked by his family for being a despot.

Seierstad says about him: “He was very democratic in inviting me into his home, very generous and helpful. He said I was welcome to move in and to write whatever I wanted. He is very concerned about Afghanistan being known in the world. He’s got great respect for journalists, those who come and write about his country. But he is a man with many sides. He is educated, trained as an engineer,and he has read all the history of the region and all the poetry. He has not read the modern books or foreign books and doesn’t have the broad kind of knowledge that an intellectual would. He is really a village boy…. when it comes to running his family, he has only one model and that’s his father.”

After The Bookseller of Kabul was published, Shah Mohamed Rais went to Oslo to have his “honor restored” by denouncing the book and seeking legal redress and compensation, as told in the Oslo’s Aftenposten newspaper.

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad was discussed by the members of the Book Club of the United Nations Womens’ Guild on Friday, 12th January 2007.

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