Tag-Archive for ◊ control ◊

Author:
• Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Alaa El Aswany was born in Egypt in 1957, the only child of an ex aristocratic mother and a well known father from Aswan, in Upper Egypt. His father, Abbas, who received the Egyptian state award for literature in 1972, was a lawyer before becoming a novelist.

Alaa Al Aswany studied in a French private school in Cairo, Le Lycée Français du Caire, which was followed by a Cairo University dentistry degree in 1980 and a Masters degree in 1985 from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he spent 17 years before returning to live in Egypt. Today he still lives in Cairo with his second wife and three children.

Alaa El Aswany is one of the founding members of the political democratic opposition movement, Kefaya (Enough), meaning enough of president Mubarak’s undemocratic, oppressive regime and its corruption. The movement was founded in 2004.

In 2010 El Aswany was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims for arts and culture. He was also nominated for the prestigious 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Chicago, published in 2007.

Born Muslim, El Aswany is a secular and free thinker. He has written many articles for Egyptian newspapers on political issues, social matters and literature.

Alaa El Aswany had his dental clinic in the Yacoubian building, in the centre of Cairo, but departed 15 years before writing his fictitious novel about the building. He still practises dentistry twice a week in his clinic in the Garden City district of Cairo, in order to stay in touch with people and have discussions with them, which, he says, is very important to him and helps in his writing since he treats patients as a professional dentist but writes about them as a novelist.

The Yacoubian building was first published by a small, private publisher in Cairo in 2002, after being rejected three times by the Egyptian Book Organisation, the omnipotent state-run publishers controlled by president Mubarak’s regime, because of its perceived controversial content.

The novel was translated into 27 languages and became a best seller in the Arab world. In 2006 it was made into a film with the biggest budget ever for an Egyptian film and in 2007 was made into a television series.

The Yacoubian building, constructed in 1934 in downtown Cairo by the Armenian millionaire Hagop Yacoubian, was an architectural paragon of its time. Unfortunately, after years of neglect and lack of renovation, the condition of the building declined.

It is early 1990 when the story begins. The author describes the everyday life of the people who live in the building. Whether these tenants are wealthy, nouveau-riche or poor, they all share the same struggle to survive and the suffering and hardship they are enduring at the hands of the current Egyptian regime.

Most of them have in common the same obsession for sex and decadence, just like the deteriorating building they live or work in, the corrupted leader they have and the iniquitous government that governs them. The run-down building is a metaphor for the state of the country.

There is the well-to-do, 65-year old, retired Francophile engineer, Zaki Bey Dessouki, the self confessed, “scientist of women” who belongs to the aristocracy of a bygone era, the good old days which his sister Dawlat feels very dissatisfied and angry to have lost and consequently gone with it her two children who emigrated. She becomes bitter and takes it all out on her only brother.

Then there is the rich, middle aged, homosexual, successful newspaper editor, Hatim Rasheed, who couldn’t control his sexual urges for the young, illiterate, Abd Rabo, an upper Egyptian peasant, and police recruit, who will prove to be fatal for him.

And there’s another character, the ambitious nouveau-riche countryman, the old Hagg Mohamed Azzam, who wants to be part of the Egyptian parliament in order to gain power and prestige, even if he has to pay a huge bribe. He discovers that he has uncontrollable sexual needs that his old wife could no longer satisfy and has to marry a second wife, the young Soad who becomes his victim.

Also not forgetting the dirty old, chain of boutiques owner, the rich, Talal Chanane and his young lady workers and sex sufferers, Fifi and Boussaïna, nor the corrupted Malak, who earns his living not only as a shirtmaker but also in the commerce of currencies, alcohol, contraband and anything that brings in money, including blackmail.

There is also the young, Taha El Shazli, the son of the building’s caretaker. He is a bright student who’s dream is to join the police academy and marry his childhood girlfriend and neighbour, Boussaïna. His dream is shattered when he is refused entrance to the police academy because of his father’s profession. Saddened and dismayed after realising that money and contacts in the right place count for more than good grades and perseverance, he becomes bitter and cynical and consequently loses Boussaïna for good. He enrolls at Cairo university and, through one of the students, joins a militant Islamic group and dies a martyr in an organised assault on a senior prison officer who was behind his torture and humiliation while he was jailed. With nothing to live for, and therefore nothing to lose, he died more out of revenge, deceit and loss of hope in the whole Egyptian system than for his Islamic belief.

A contrasting array of characters from dissimilar backgrounds, each one with a different life-style and morals, but all of them seeking a better life. They all inhabit the same building without ever encountering one another, each living in his own world, preoccupied with his own problems.

The characters and the seedy building, which is undoubtedly the main focus of the story, as the main title implies and which still exists in the centre of Cairo, are well developed and quite realistic.

The novel conveys a bleak picture of a contemporary Egypt that lost its bearings, but the ending gives a shy ray of hope for the future. A very interesting, good novel if it was not for the several explicit sex passages which belittle the novel’s many serious themes.

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Author:
• Saturday, May 01st, 2010

John le Carré, who’s real name is David John Moore Cornwell, was born in 1931 in Poole, Dorset in the south west of England. He went to Sherborne school in Dorset, followed by one year study of German literature in the University of Bern, Switzerland (1948-1949). He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford in 1956 with a first-class honours degree in modern languages.

Le Carré taught French and German at Eton school for two years from 1956 to 1958 and became a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964 as Secretary in the British Embassy in Bonn and as Political Consul in Hamburg. He started writing books in 1961 and is well known for his espionage, thriller novels. He has written twenty two novels to date, one non-fiction book, a few short stories and screen plays.

Le Carré has been married twice: once in 1954 and the second time in 1972. He has four sons, three from his first wife and one from his second. He has twelve grandchildren.  John le Carré hates cities, he lives today in Cornwall with his second wife.

In The Mission Song, like in The Constant Gardener, John le Carré describes the exploitation of Africa by the hypocritical western powers. The introductory quotation of The Mission Song, taken from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which is about the Congo, reveals the subject of the novel.

Le Carré, in The Mission Song, gives the reader a clear and detailed account about the complexity of politics and business in The Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as an insight into who is behind the tension, the feuds between ethnic tribes and the bloodshed which killed around three to four million people from 1998 to 2003.

Following this period there was some semblance of stability in some part of the country but unfortunately not in the area of East Congo which to this day still suffers from combats and attacks against the civilian population. In particular in the province of Kivu, which happens to abound in natural resources in general and especially in minerals such as  Coltan (an important element used in electronic components) therefore attracted the interest and greed of the locals, the Congolese, the neighbours, like the Rwandans, the British and other western powers.

The story of The Mission Song is narrated by the unbelievably naïve and gullible, Bruno Salvador, a son of an Irish Catholic missionary priest and a Congolese village woman and who, eventually, becomes a British citizen. He is a polyglot and a very talented top interpreter who speaks English, French, Swahili and other African dialects spoken in Kivu, where he was born. He is a free-lancer who works for law firms, hospitals and big corporations.

Due to Bruno’s competence and to being so much in demand, the British Secret Service asks him to be the interpreter at a highly secret meeting, between an anonymous business Syndicate and some important Congolese negotiators from Kivu. The meeting takes place on an unknown island and will earn him a good sum of money in cash.

Bruno has been married for a few years to Penelope, a white well-bred, successful journalist, working for a national paper. His marriage has lost its glow and seems to be falling apart, he suspects his wife of having an affair. The “coup de grâce” comes when Bruno falls in love with a Congolese nurse, Hannah, which awakens and strengthens his loyalty and patriotism to his homeland rather than to his country of adoption and which will lead him and Hannah into great danger.

Bruno will not be able to turn a deaf ear and stay impartial or keep confidentiality, as his job demands, once he discovers the lies and deceits involved in the evil plan concocted by the avid western powers. The plan requires the help of the corrupt African leaders from the different ethnic tribes in Kivu in order to stage a coup d’état and create a war, which will endanger his homeland, his beloved people and give a free hand to the wicked and immoral commercial entity, called “The Syndicate” to control the Congo.

At first, Bruno was enthusiastic because he thought by accepting this mission he was helping in creating peace in Congo. He was made to believe that the Westerners wanted to establish peace by freeing Kivu from the Rwandan invaders who are stealing Kivu’s wealth. The British gave him to understand that they wanted to get ahead of the forthcoming elections in Congo by helping the old, mystic, religious, likeable, Mwangaza (which means enlightenment in Swahili) to get into power, not mentioning their intention to install a puppet regime with a puppet ruler and, of course, establish democracy and give back to the people of Kivu the wealth that belongs to them.

The Mission Song, published in 2006, is a fictional story condemning the corruption and exploitation of the African people by the western powers for their commercial interest, greed and racism. Unfortunately, the continuing massacres, in the Kivu region of The Republic of Congo even today tend to shed a sad and realistic light onto the novel.