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Author:
• Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Susanne Dunlap was born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York. After finishing school she studied mathematics major at Bucknell University before quitting for an English major. Dunlap obtained a masters degree in education from the University of North Carolina and a major in music from Smith. Then, thirteen years later, she went back to achieve an MA in musicology and finally obtained a PhD in music history from Yale University after eight years of study.

Susanne Dunlap has worked as a legal assistant, a Yoga teacher and a music history teacher. In 1986 she was a founding member and president of Sisters in Crime – an organisation that provides advice and support to mystery authors and promotes women crime writers. She has been an Associate Creative Director at a small advertising agency in Manhattan and won the Anthony and Macavity awards – a literary award for mystery writers. Dunlap has two grown-up daughters and grandchildren.

Susanne Dunlap has written several books and short stories. After reading a novel by Agatha Christie she decided to become a writer of crime and mystery fiction. The Musician’s Daughter, published in 2009, has been nominated for the Utah Beehive Award and the Missouri Gateway Readers Award.

The Musician’s Daughter is a historical fiction set in eighteenth century imperial Vienna with its opulent palaces and its Viennese and Hungarian nobilities as well as the wonderful world of Viennese music, alongside poor gypsy camps, exoticism and folklore.

On Christmas eve Theresa’s father, Antonius Schurman, the finest violinist who plays in prince Nicholas Esterhazy’s court orchestra conducted by the distinguished Kappelmeister Franz Joseph Haydn, is brought back home dead by three of his colleagues. They find that he has been killed out of town by the river Danube, near a gypsy camp.

The intelligent, fifteen-year-old, Theresa, knows that her father had no enemies and was kind to everyone. She sets her mind on unravelling this perplexing mystery, courageously, on her own. Like a detective, she spends her time gathering clues and facing several dangerous adventures and in the end she finds the culprit.

Theresa is a liberated girl ahead of her time. She refuses to comply with the tradition of accepting any suitor. She is discretely in love with the young Hungarian musician Zoltan who is involved in the same mysterious intrigues as her. She dreams of becoming a musician like her beloved father, although she knows that society at the time finds women musicians unacceptable. After her father’s death, she takes control of her mother and little brother, with the help of her God-father, Haydn, .

After the breadwinner of the family dies, Franz Joseph Haydn, who is losing his eyesight, helps his God-daughter, Theresa, financially, during this difficult period by employing her as copyist for his compositions. Theresa is very grateful, she needs the money desperately, especially with a helpless, bereaved mother at the end of her pregnancy and a brother about to start a violin maker apprenticeship lasting nine years.

Theresa decides to find her father’s murderer and retrieve her late father’s old, valuable, stolen, Italian, Amati violin – the very same violin that Theresa loved and was taught to play by her father. All she has to go by for starting her pursuit is a mysterious gold pendant that she has never seen before, found round her father’s neck.

As the story unfolds, Theresa discovers she is penetrating into a world of deceit, conspiracy and political intrigues. She will acquire information and consequently learn that her father was against injustice. He was against Hungarian serfs and against the hunting down of gypsy camps. He was spying in order to unveil the atrocious behaviour of the Hungarian lords.

She will also find out that her highly positioned rich uncle, was making money by selling young boys to become Hungarian serfs. Theresa, with the help of some of her late father’s colleagues and some gypsies will extricate her kidnapped little brother, Toby from her evil uncle’s grasp.

The Musician’s Daughter, written by an indisputable music history lover, is a pleasant, entertaining,well described, easy-read mystery adventure, abounding with action and twists. The story starts off at a slow pace before catching-up and moving at a faster steady rhythm, building up the tension until the unveiling of the last twist.

Theresa, Mirela and Danior’s characters are especially sympathetic and well portrayed. The novel has good historical insight into the non existence of women’s rights as well as social security rights and is filled with social injustice. These are some of the problems of the time in this area of the world. The author describes the abominable way the Hungarian lords obtained their serfs and how gypsy people suffered by being unfairly persecuted. Even today the plight of gypsies remains an unsolved problem in many countries of the world.

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Author:
• Saturday, June 01st, 2013

Bahaa Taher was born in 1935 in the Giza district of Cairo, Egypt, from an Arabic school teacher’s father. His parents were from Karnak, Luxor in the south of the country, known as Upper Egypt. Bahaa Taher graduated in literature from Cairo University as well as post graduating in History and Mass Media from the same university and participated in literary left-wing circles during the sixties. Bahaa Taher writes in Arabic and is one of the most acclaimed and widely read novelists in the Arab world.

In 1998 he received Egypt’s highest literary award, the State Award of Merit in Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the Italian Giuseppe Acebi Prize and in 2008 the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel, Sunset Oasis and was long listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

In 1957 Bahaa Taher helped in founding Cairo Radio’s cultural programme. However, under president Sadat’s regime in 1975, he was dismissed as director of cultural programming at Cairo Radio for having communist ideals. He was banned from writing or having his work published. Taher then left Egypt and remained in exile for two decades. He travelled from Africa to Asia in the hope of finding a job as a freelance translator, which he eventually found in Switzerland in 1981, working for the United Nations in Geneva. The ban was lifted in 1983 and in 1995 he went back to Egypt and today still resides in Cairo.

Bahaa Taher has written several books to date:
East of the Palms and Qalat Duha, both books published in 1985, Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery, published in 1991, Love in Exile in 1995, The point of Light in 1999 and Sunset Oasis published in 2007 in Arabic and 2009 in English.

The story of Sunset Oasis, which is mostly narrated by the two protagonists, Mahmoud and Catherine – with some chapters narrated by Sheikh Yahya, Sheikh Sabir and by Alexander the Great – takes place at the end of the 19th century in Siwa, an oasis in the north west of Egypt.

Middle aged Cairene officer, lieutenant Mahmoud Abd El Zaher, is sent to Siwa as the Khedive’s District Commissioner in order to collect taxes from the inhabitants and transmit the funds to the Cairo authorities.

During this period, Egypt is part of the Ottoman Empire and at the same time is occupied by the British. Consequently the eastern and western Siwan clans, divided by internecine wars and rivalries, refuse to pay taxes to the occupiers. In addition to the two clans’ ingrained traditions and superstitions, the situation becomes difficult for any District Commissioner to deal with.

Mahmoud is sent by his Cairo established British superior, Mr Harvey, to his certain demise, since his two predecessors were killed by the Siwan tribes. This new post is intended as a punishment for lieutenant Mahmoud who had been assigned to protect Alexandria from the nationalist uprising of colonel Ahmed Urabi. Urabi was considered a traitor by the authorities because he opposed Khedive Tewfik’s policy of yielding to the European colonialists and was against the British and French financial control of the country. This British and French intrusion in Egypt had been put in place for the purpose of collecting the debts incurred by Tewfik’s predecessor, Khedive Ismail, who had been a spendthrift during his reign. Lieutenant Mahmoud had been suspected, by the British and other high-ranking officials of being disloyal to the Khedive and of being a revolutionary sympathiser despite his unproven involvement and despite having been acquitted.

Colonel Ahmed Urabi’s revolt failed in 1882 after the British navy bombarded Alexandria and pursued the attacks with their army defeating colonel Urabi at the battle of Tel el Kebir,110 km north east of Cairo, and exiled him to the then British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Mahmoud’s Irish wife, Catherine, who, like her father, is a classical scholar, insists on joining him at his new post in the hope of rekindling their dying love and also in the hope of discovering the traces of Alexander the Great and locating his tomb. She read that Alexander the Great was supposed to have come to the Siwa oasis in 331 BC after the battle of Issus, at the time of Alexander’s occupation of Egypt. He had come in order to obtain an answer from the Oracle of Ammon – Ammon being identified by the Greeks as a form of Zeus – that he was the son of Zeus, as he suspected, and not the son of Philip II of Macedonia.

Now in his forties, Mahmoud is aware of his lack of achievement in life. He had been hoping to go to Siwa without his wife in order to try and “discover himself” in the stillness of the desert which he thought he could achieve once away from everything. However, his wife insists on joining him despite his efforts to dissuade her. Now with his marriage failing beyond retrieve and his great disappointment in Urabi’s thwarted revolution, he feels tormented, depressed and melancholy. He is a weak and helpless character who has lost his ambition and has no aspiration in life, unlike his brother Suleiman, who has settled with his wife and children in Syria and seems to have a steady existence.

Mahmoud feels lost and lonely after his parents’ death and after the disappearance of broken hearted Ni’ma – the slave girl who worked in the family’s home since Mahmoud’s childhood and who adored him devotedly. She is the only woman he really felt passion for without ever disclosing his love. Mahmoud says to himself: “A woman who hasn’t left me all my life long. Ni’ma visited me last night… and filled me with joy. All I can remember of the dream is her beautiful face… She was my friend and with her stories would make me a child again. Then, with her love, she would make me a man once more. I loved her as I had never loved anyone else.” Unfortunately, it is too late to go back and rectify the present.

Mahmoud’s wife, Catherine, seems to be his opposite, being a strong and determined character. She realises that her marriage is no longer working and that her husband doesn’t approve of her obsession with Alexander the Great’s searches. He neither agrees nor accepts her behaviour which upsets the traditions, values and superstitions of the Siwans who are already hostile to them both.

Despite everything, Catherine defies all the odds and pursues her search for Alexander’s tomb in the hope of making a name for herself in history. The arrival of Captain Wasfi, Mahmoud’s junior officer who is also interested in the same historical period, doesn’t help to make Catherine give up her project.

Mahmoud’s beautiful sister-in-law, Fiona, dies of tuberculosis while staying with them in Siwa which devastates him as he has been secretly in love with her. That is the turning point of Mahmoud’s life which culminates in the suicidal explosion of the ancient Egyptian temple in Siwa called Om Obayda and him with it. A tragic end for a despairing character.

The ancient Egyptian temple of Om Obayda was in fact destroyed by Mahmoud Azmi, the real life district commissioner of Siwa at the end of the nineteen century, as mentioned in the author’s note.

In Sunset Oasis the characters are convincing and well depicted. Bahaa Taher said: “I have always thought that you cannot separate politics from fiction. It is important to combine what is happening to ordinary people because what happens in the political field affects everyone.”

The book portrays great insight into the cultural, social, political and existing tensions and rebellion of the natives against the foreign occupiers, Turkish and British, at this period in Egyptian history on one side and the unruly Bedouin on the other. An echo of the tensions and unsettled situation existing presently in Egypt albeit for different reasons.