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Author:
• Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Francesca Marciano was born and grew up in Rome, Italy in 1955. Her grandfather was a well-known Italian writer and winner of literary awards. Since her childhood Francesca was dreaming of becoming a writer like her grandfather but she gave up her university studies and went to New York to have a six-month film course and ended up staying six years.

She worked as a producer/director for documentaries for the Italian television before she found out that her real vocation was film-making. She also acted in some films and became a writer.

Her first holiday trip to Zanzibar made her fall in love with Africa. Since then, she spends her time between Rome and Kenya, where she has a residence.

Francesca Marciano has written three novels to date :
The End Of Manners in 2009
Casa Rossa in 2003
Rules Of The Wild in 1998

The beautiful young Italian, Esme, is the main character and the passionate, self-observing narrator of Rules Of The Wild. The story is set in modern Kenya and relates the every day life of western expatriates who live a superficial, decadent, purposeless existence in a closed circle community. They get drunk, consume drugs and are devoid of morals. They live in Kenya and yet are completely cut off from the native culture of the place they call home but don’t seem to care. They don’t want to leave because they are captured by the picturesque beauty of the country and because of all the privileges and freedom they have. They don’t contribute to the Kenyan life, they don’t even make African friends, they only have cheap African labourers. The colonial attitude still prevails among the white society in Africa.

The expatriates are aware without being deterred, that they will never belong to Kenya nor be part of it despite falling in love with it. Just like Esme who surmounts her torn feelings towards her two lovers, Adam and Hunter, knowing well that she will never “belong” to either of them.

Esme is first attracted to Adam, the gentle, handsomely rugged, safari leader, a second generation Scot, who is captivated by the fascinating landscape and wild nature and would like to transmit this passion to Esme.

While living with Adam she is charmed by the conceited British war correspondent, Hunter, who after reporting the Somalian and Rwandan genocides becomes cynical about the harshness and injustice in these breathtaking, unspoilt East African countries and transmits the horror of what he has witnessed to Esme, through his copious accounts.

After much wavering between her two very dissimilar lovers, after much suffering and introspection, Esme discovers that her passion lies elsewhere. It lies in the miracle generated everyday by the swooping of birds over the still water, the movement of the clouds, the pink and purple sunrise and the stunningly dramatic orange sunset. Every day this magnificent, heavenly display looks as if perceived for the first time by the observer.

Esme discovers that she feels reborn and free by living so close to such enthralling virgin landscape which is a constant wonder, because she senses that she is part of it. She realises that she is in love with Africa more than anything or anybody. At last, after her wearying quest, she attains her flawless, “elsewhere” and extirpates herself from the past in order to live in harmony and self-abnegation with her surroundings.

Unfortunately, this striking paradisaical setting is heavily obscured by the sad crude reality of how the white Westerners still sustain the colonialist mentality in the African countries and by the rape, pillages and blood baths taking place in the neighbouring Rwanda and Somalia. A dark side of human nature juxtaposed to the beautiful images of an untamed luxuriant African panorama.

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Author:
• 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.

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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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