Tag-Archive for ◊ cross ◊

Author:
• 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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Author:
• Friday, April 29th, 2011

Fadia Faqir was born in 1956 in Amman, Jordan to a conservative family where she was one of nine children. She obtained her BA degree in English Literature from the University of Amman, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, England.

In 1990 Fadia Faqir was awarded the first Ph.D in Critical and Creative Writing by the University of East Anglia. She was the senior editor of the Arab Women Writers Series, for which she received the 1995 New Venture Award.

Fadia Faqir is a defender of human rights, especially in the Arab world. She is a member of the Board of Al-Raida, a feminist journal published by the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She now lives with her Hungarian, Irish, English, husband in Durham in the north of England.

Fadia Faqir has written three novels to date :
Nisanit in 1990.
Pillars of Salt in 1998.
My Name Is Salma in 2007 which was published in several countries and translated into fourteen languages.
She has also written some short stories and play scripts.

Young Salma is a wild Muslim Arab shepherdess who likes playing the reed pipe to her goats, frolicking in nature and swimming in the river. She lives with her parents and elder brother, Mahmoud, in Hima, in a bedouin village in the Levant. Her family is very conservative, consequently her care-free life ends when she gets pregnant out of wedlock by her young lover, Hamdan, which brings dishonour upon her family.

She has to escape before her brother kills her, so as to purify the family’s blood and restore their honour, by taking refuge in the Islah prison where she gives birth to a baby girl. But Salma’s baby girl is snatched out of her arms at birth by her cell mate, Noura and given to the prison warden to put in a home for illegitimate children, despite Salma’s shouting and screaming to retain her.

Salma is then smuggled into Lebanon by a nun and lives in a convent before seeking refuge and safety in England and settling in the city of Exeter. It is difficult for the unsophisticated bedouin young woman to be so abruptly uprooted and reject her upbringing, confront a different culture and meld Salma into Sal or Sally, her English adopted names.

Salma tries to adopt a good English accent and manners from her elderly English landlady, Elizabeth, but will always remain and feel an alien outside her village. She can’t bury the past which haunts her constantly and certainly can’t forget Layla, the daughter she left behind and yearns for and who will be the end of her.

Salma is torn between wanting to live and her feeling of guilt, which according to her beliefs, deserves death as punishment. Her defiant character pushes her to seek a job as a seamstress and to take a second job in the evening in a hotel bar in order to make more money to be able to pay her bills. She even enrolls in an English literature course in the Open University to improve her English and marries her Geordie teacher, John Robson, and bears him a baby son, Imran.

Salma even has a social life as she becomes a close friend of the retired Welsh headmistress, Gwen and also enjoys the friendship of Parvin, a Pakistani young woman who, like Salma, escaped from her family to avoid an arranged marriage imposed on her by her father.

Both young women have in common the feeling of injustice dictated by their family’s inherited, intransigent conventions and the fear of being caught by their kin after breaking away. Salma and Parvin are vulnerable, insecure and apprehensive about their future. They form a good match and therefore become of invaluable support and comfort to each other.

Nevertheless, Salma can’t help perceiving herself as a sinner and therefore unworthy of living. An infidel who is no longer a Muslim, an impure, a kind of a living filth who deserves to be beaten to death. She has an obstinate, strong character and determination for survival combined with a strain of self-hatred and self-destruction.

The whole novel is narrated by Salma who gives her point of views about her past and her present by random flashbacks between the Middle East and England, which at times disrupt the smooth running sequence of the narration. The author declares that the structure of the novel is deliberate in order to convey that Salma felt alienated from both communities: the permissive West and her very conservative own community.

The main subject of the novel deals with cross-cultures, oppression, violence against women and the position of the female gender in society in certain patriarchal communities, portrayed by the author through honour killings and forced marriages. Serious and complex subjects treated with skill and with a pinch of humour.