Tag-Archive for ◊ Artists ◊

• Friday, October 25th, 2013

Tirdad Zolghadr was born in 1973 in California. He grew up in Tehran in Iran, England and North and West Africa. He obtained a B.A. Degree in history and political science and an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at The University of Geneva, Switzerland. He worked as a cultural journalist and translator before working as a freelance art critic and curator.

He writes for Frieze and other publications and is a founding member of the Shahrzad art and design collective. He lives and works between Berlin and New York and teaches at the Center of Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York.

Zolghadr’s first novel, Softcore, which has been translated into German, Italian and French, was published in 2007. In this satirical, cynical novel, the narrator, a cosmopolitan, art-minded individual, like the author himself, is an opportunistic young Iranian man returning to Tehran after graduating from Yale University in the U.S.A. He has a great plan for re-opening the family restaurant and cocktail bar, the Promessa, closed in 1978, during the Iranian Islamic revolution. He is ambitious and has in mind to transform, the Promessa, into a space for art exhibitions, fashion venues, workshops, film sets, corporate receptions and dance parties.

The narrator is part of the international art world and his most important mentor and muse is Stella, who he met ten years back in the U.S.A. She is always behind him electronically, telling him what to do. She is a German historian, specialised in postwar art brut while being a spy at the same time but he is unaware of it.

The novel takes a different path when the main protagonist is caught by the police and jailed for innocently photographing the Tehran neon orange flower stand, which happens to be near the Revolutionary Courthouse. Being a polyglot and widely travelled, he is asked by the police to become their spy or bear the consequence of refusal. From now on he is thrown into the treacherous world of conspiracy and deceit.

An original glimpse into modern cultural Iran, a contrast with the serious, conservative religious state of the mollahs. Tehran is depicted as an important international crossroad, but unfortunately there are some other interesting topics and opportunities which the author has missed, like elaborating more deeply about life in Tehran, the contrast between the regime now and during the Shah’s reign as well as to what extent people are coping and what are the authorities’ views on the arts today, etc…

Alas, taken as a whole, this is an obscure, unbalanced, pretentious, unconvincing novel. It is unstructured, irritably overdone with unnecessary name dropping of all sorts of products as well as names of rock and roll stars, poets and artists, ad nauseum. The characters are one-dimensional, incongruous and unsympathetic. They evolve haphazardly throughout the story which makes it difficult to follow the turn of events and confuses the reader. If the author intended to write an original novel he strayed from his target.

• Friday, February 24th, 2012

Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in Southern Albania in 1936, into a non-religious family. His father was a civil servant and his mother was from a wealthy family. He went to primary and secondary school in Gjirokastër followed by language studies at the University of Tirana in the faculty of history and philology where he obtained a teaching diploma in 1956. He continued his studies at the Maxim Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow until 1960.

Kadare was a member of the Albanian parliament from 1970 to 1982, but after some strife with the authorities in 1975 over a politically satirical poem, he was not allowed to publish any of his work for three years. He was also accused by the president of the league of Albanian Writers and Artists of intentionally avoiding to write about politics by writing mainly about history and myths. This was missing the point that Kadare preferred to use these means as an allegory to tackle the current political issues without fearing the repercussions.

Kadare, who is an eminent figure in Albania since the sixties, sought and obtained asylum in France before the fall of communism in his country. He stated at the time that: “Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible…The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship”. Since 1990 he lives both in Paris and Tirana.

Kadare is a prolific writer. His first collection of poetry was published in 1954 and his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published in 1963. He has also written essays and short stories.

His most recent book, Ghost Rider, was published in 2011 and his novels have been published in more than forty countries. In 1992 he won the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca and in 1998 he was the first Albanian to be presented with the prestigious French Legion d’Honneur. In 2005 he won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize and in 2009 he won the Prince of Asturia Award of Arts. He has frequently been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In Albania The Siege was first called The Drums of Rain, (the title later given to the French edition) but was at last published in 1970 in Albanian under the title The Castle, at a time when Albania was still under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. The English version, called The Siege, was published in 2009.

The story which takes place in the early fifteenth century, is of an imaginary siege of an unknown Albanian fortress besieged by the Ottoman Turkish army during the time of George Castrioti. Historically, George Castrioti, known as Skanderbeg, meaning Lord Alexander or Iskander Bey by the Turks, has been the national Albanian hero who bravely fought the mighty Ottomans during the peek of their strength for more than twenty years, when they were the most feared army of the time. He stood as the fierce saviour of Christianity against Islam. It was the confrontation of two cultures and two different religious beliefs, the crescent against the cross, the nowadays so-called: “clash of civilisations”. The historical fact is that after Castrioti’s death in1468, Albania was defeated and became part of the Ottoman empire and is today a predominantly Muslim European Country.

In The Siege, Tursun Pasha, the commander in chief of the Ottoman army, is commissioned to encircle the Albanian fortress which stands amidst fields, assail its people and subjugate them. His fate depends on the success of this mission. He’d better be successful or else commit suicide to make amends for his defeat. As the Quartermaster says to Saruxha: “If he doesn’t win this campaign, his star will dim for good… I am sure of it. If he is beaten, the best he can hope for is banishment for life. As for the worst… The Quartermaster drew a line with his forefinger under his throat”. Tursun Pasha never confronts Skanderberg whose presence is implied in various parts of the novel. He hardly appears in the arena but is acting behind the scenes through his fighters.

Before every new chapter, there are two pages narrating the viewpoint of the non-characterised besieged. Otherwise the whole story is related from the Turks’ angle by several characters, the nameless Quartermaster General in charge of the logistics, the engineer Saruxha, the architect Giaour, the credulous and nervous historian-chronicler Mevla Celebi, the poet Saddedin, the campaign doctor Sirri Selim and the Pasha’s harem who joined the campaign but whose members are kept confined to their tent and guarded by a eunuch.

The story of The Siege, published in 1970, seems to be meant by the author (and for those who can read between the lines) as an indirect representation of the difficult times the Albanians are going through. It was during the rule of the totalitarian, Enver Hoxha and the threat of the Soviet Russians, who were at Albania’s threshold in Czechoslovakia, during the cold war period.

The author, in his novel, describes masterfully and in great detail the brutality and bloodshed in wars, also all the intricacies of a campaign of this magnitude and all that it involves. He portrays with great authenticity the psychology of the invaders and the besieged in this war of attrition: the sustained attacks by the relentless Turkish army and the steadfastness of the stoic Albanians who will not be subdued.

Although it’s an historical fact that the Ottomans ended up conquering Albania, does that make victory perpetually on the side of the technologically advanced and the brutal? Not always according to the story, which goes against historically verified truth. The author wanted to prove an ambiguous point which is not clarified. Maybe out of patriotism and pride or implying that the Enver Hoxha regime, no matter how powerful, will come to an end one day.

The Siege is an engrossing novel, well written with a lot of food for thought, especially when looked upon from today’s perspective.

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