Tag-Archive for ◊ columnist ◊

• Saturday, November 01st, 2014

Sarah Addison Allen was born in 1971 in Asheville, North Carolina, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from a housewife mother and a father who was an editor, a reporter and an award winning columnist in the local paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times. At the age of sixteen Allen wrote her first book: Once From Mood and in 1994 she obtained a B.A. literature Degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Sarah Addison Allen lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she writes her novels. Her first book, Tried And True, was published in 2003 under her nom-de-plume, Katie Gallagher. The breakthrough came with her novel, Garden Spells, in 2007 followed by The Sugar Queen in 2008, The Girl Who Chased The Moon in 2010, The Peach Keeper in 2011 and Lost Lake in 2014. Her latest novel, First Frost will be published in January 2015.

Garden Spells – like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – is a magic realism novel which is a literary genre that tightly binds together unreal elements with realistic fiction.

Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen’s first novel, takes place in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s the story of the two Waverly sisters: the thirty-four-year-old Claire and the twenty-eight-year-old Sydney, who after being separated and scarred by life, reconcile after a long estrangement in order to cast off the Waverly’s bad reputation in Bascom which has lasted for decades and through generations. The two sisters decide to fight the adversity of life side by side and turn their supernatural gift legacy into a blessing instead of an affliction.

There is also their cousin, the seventy-nine-year old, Evanelle, as well as Bay, Sydney’s five-year-old daughter. The four of them, like all Waverly women, are gifted with magical powers and not forgetting the mysteriously prophetic apple tree in the Waverly’s garden, reminiscent of “The Tree Of Knowledge”: “If you eat an apple from that tree, you’ll see what the biggest event in your life will be”.

Claire has a considerable talent for growing plants as well as being a successful businesswoman. She sells and caters to the locals for most unusual food and drinks, like biscuits with lilac jelly, lavender tea cookies, honeysuckle wine, rose geranium wine etc.. All is prepared using her mystical garden plants which have special, bewitching, curative properties. Claire always has a remedy for people’s problems “that could be solved only by the flowers grown around that apple tree in the Waverlys’ backyard”.

Claire and Sydney were children when their mother left home abandoning them and they were consequently brought up by their grandmother who influenced Claire’s magical culinary practice. Claire grows up to be insecure and introverted. At the beginning she is reluctant to open up even to her sister, Sydney, let alone to Tyler Hughes, the newcomer artist living next door. In order to calm the ardour of her loving neighbour and make him forget her, she makes him a casserole with snapdragon oil and tarts with bachelors’ button petals containing magical powers from the plants and flowers in her back garden.

Sydney, the unruly younger sister is gifted with a “premonitory” acute sense of smell. She can smell someone’s presence before their arrival. After completing high school, Sydney leaves home when eighteen years old and returns back ten years later with her five-year-old daughter, Bay, escaping from her brutal husband, David. Despite her young age, Bay, being a Waverly, is skilled as well and she knows where things or somebody belong.

The seventy-nine-year-old, Evanelle Franklin has psychic powers in anticipating events. At any time of day or night, she can feel the urge to give people unusual gifts which appear useless but turn out to be very beneficial at a certain time and at a precise moment.

Bascom itself is a bizarre town where each family, like the Waverley’s, is known for a certain specific peculiarity that goes back generations: the Hopkins young men marry older women and the Clark women marry wealthy husbands and keep them under their spell with their sexual skill.

Garden Spells is an easy, entertaining read, the supernatural associated with horticulture makes the story a diversion from everyday realistic life. Sarah Addison Allen describes her writing style and genre as a “southern-fried magical realism, with a love story” and “fairy tale aspects, all stirred in a pot like a dish”.

• Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Kader Abdolah was born in Arak, Iran in 1954. His real name is Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahaniand his pen name is a combined pseudonym in memory of his two executed friends from the resistance. He is the author of novels, short stories and non-fiction as well as being a columnist and poet. From an early age Kader Abdolah wanted to become a writer like his forebear, Ghaemmaghami Farahani.

While studying physics at Teheran University, Abdolah joined an underground left wing movement against the dictatorship of the Shah and later against the authoritarian Khomeini regime.

He wrote articles in an illegal journal and while still in Iran, secretly published two books describing what life was like under the Khomeini rule. He escaped in 1985 and three years later was accepted, at the invitation of the United Nations, as a political refugee in Holland.

Kader Abdolah was quick at mastering the language of his host country as much as writing all his work in Flemish. He received many honours and awards: The Golden Donkey Ear prize in 1994, the Edgar du Perron prize in 2000 for My Father’s Notebook which was first published in Dutch in 2000 and then in English in 2006. He received the 2008 decoration de chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2000 and awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Groningen in 2009. He currently lives in Delft in Holland.

After escaping Iran, Ishmael, the main character and narrator of the novel, like the author himself, becomes a political refugee in the Netherlands. While in exile he receives a parcel containing the notebook that had been written in cuneiform script by his half illiterate deaf-mute father, Aga Akbar, the talented tapestry mender and the illegitimate son of an Iranian nobleman and servant mother. Aga Akbar was acquainted with these scriptures when he was sent by his uncle to copy the three thousand-year-old ancient cuneiform inscriptions chiseled on a cave wall on Saffron Mountain.

These scriptures narrate the story of the first Persian king in history, king Cyrus, who lived 2500 years ago. The author relates historical facts: We are informed that several years later the reign of king Cyrus was followed by the Qajar dynasty which ended in 1921 with a coup d’état staged by Reza Khan. Reza Khan declared himself the new king of Persia and established the Pahlavi Kingdom. He was in turn followed by his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in 1941 and then by his prime minister, Mohamed Mosadeq, from 1951 to 1953. Ayatollah Khomeini follows in 1979 and the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is also mentioned.

Ishmael decides to translate his father’s undecipherable work of a lifetime into Dutch. He feels it is his duty to do this as a painful, nostalgic, fond commemoration to his deceased father and his lost motherland. Throughout the novel, Ishmael recounts a double biography: his father’s life story combined with his own. He also writes about the political and social situation in Iran.

Aga Akbar was about nine years old when his mother died. His uncle, Kazem Khan, who looked after him, realised that his nephew couldn’t read or write. He decided to encourage him by giving him a notebook and asked him to “scribble something”, at least “one page every day. Or maybe just a couple of sentences”, which he did.

My Father’s Notebook blends facts, autobiography and fiction. The novel is about the intertwined past and present of Persian culture going back thousands of years. There are the myths, poetry, geography, religion and unique rich traditions on one side and the depiction of the twentieth century life in Iran on the other. It is also about the unconditional tender love between a son and his disabled father, despite their differences.

The author’s constant navigation between the enchanting past tarnished by Iran’s present bitter reality and his new life in exile in the Netherlands, brings two parallel worlds into focus and in complete opposition due to their entirely different cultures and history – conservative Muslim Iran on the one side and secular Holland on the other.

The novel ends on a sad note tinted with a ray of hope. Golden Bell disappears and her father, Aga Akbar, who accompany her in escape is found dead by a shepherd on a cold snowy mountain. Nevertheless, Golden Bell might still be asleep in the Saffron Mountain waiting to be woken at the right time to witness a new world of justice and freedom in her country. Just like the people mentioned in The Holy Koran in the Surat “The Cave” to which the author refers to in the novel’s prologue and epilogue.

An emotionally poignant story which gives an insight into the humanitarian problems relating to political refugees and their sufferings after being uprooted from their beloved homeland by repressive regimes.

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