Tag-Archive for ◊ deaf ear ◊

Author:
• Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Eva Hoffman (née Ewa Wydra) was born of Jewish parents in Cracow, Poland in 1945. Despite being musically gifted she had to abandon her piano classes at the age of thirteen, to emigrate to Vancouver, Canada with her parents and younger sister.

After graduating from high school, she travelled to the USA upon receiving a scholarship for studying English literature at Rice University, Texas where she obtained her M.A., followed by Yale School of Music from 1967 to 1968. In 1974 she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University.

She studied psychoanalysis and commenced a training analysis course in London, England but had to give it up as it was too ambitious for her.

Eva Hoffman has been a professor of literature and creative writing at various universities and colleges. She worked from 1979 to 1990 as an editor and writer for The New York Times and has received several awards and prizes for her work.

She married Barry Hoffman in 1971, divorced in 1976 and moved to England in 1993 where she now lives in Hampstead in north London.

Eva Hoffman is the writer of Lost in Translation published in 1989, Exit into History in 1993, Shtetl in 1997, The Secret in 2001, After Such Knowledge in 2004, Illuminations in 2008 and Time in 2009.

Isabel Merton, the novel’s protagonist is a New Yorker. She is a famous, gifted pianist who often goes on concert tours all over Europe. She is overpowered by her passion for classical music to the extent of separating from her loving husband, Peter, in order to dedicate her life to this fine art. She is hoping to reach the nirvana through this highly pure form of pianistic sounds.

While travelling across Europe for her concerts, Isabel’s path crosses in several cities with the charismatically handsome, Anzor Islikhanov, a cultured Chechen activist, an itinerant like her. They both have a passionate character in common but different commitment targets. The inevitable happens – they fall in love.

The passing passion between Isabel and Anzor is doomed to fail despite the love and attention they need due to the lack of parental affection and care from which they both suffered. Anzor’s dog is killed by his cruel, apathetic father, for a futile reason and Isabel’s divorced mother abandons her and her younger brother, Kolya. Kolya ends-up dying of a drug overdose, even though Isabel was always trying to comfort him and substitute the uncaring, absent mother.

Isabel’s entire life is driven by her devotion to her art, it’s her “raison d’être”.“She summons the poetry of Chopin’s last Ballade, so shot through with anger and anguish, as if it could heal death and all sorrow… As if, after they’ve been broken and injured, things could be made whole”. We learn from her former German teacher’s diary, Ernst Wolfe, that she had a promising future as a pianist. This diary she carries with her and reads during her travels.

As for Anzor, his life is dedicated to his homeland. His patriotism has turned into rage, hatred and revenge against the Russians. For him fighting is the only solution to gaining back the country’s sovereignty, his honour and self-respect. He says to Isabel: “We’re fighting for our survival. Our freedom… Freedom as that artist would never understand it… I cannot breathe free when my country does not breathe free”. After listening to Anzor, Isabel “wants to flee to her practice room; to her music, in which violence and rage are already transmuted into beauty…As if violence held no dominion over beauty”. Because she has no other means “with which to answer the guerilla, or the terrorist. Or herself”.

Illuminations is well written and has interesting themes, like the beauty of classical music in contrast with the ugly violence, in addition to romanticism and psychoanalysis. The musical metaphors involving Chopin, Schumann or Schubert are very well described showing the author’s knowledge and natural affinity for music. As Isabel says to her interviewer, Mariella, about classical music: “This beautiful vocabulary of the soul… where else do we find it? …music doesn’t refer to anything. Except itself. So it doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t explain anything and it is…Illuminations”.

The drawback of this novel is its repetitiveness which induces monotony, maybe intended by the author? Because, whether it’s London, Paris, Prague, Sofia or Vienna, it’s always the same airports, the same hotels, the same concert halls, the same apprehensive feeling before every concert and the aftermath, emptiness and forlornness. Also the recurrent conversations between the two protagonists are always the persistently bitter Anzor talking about the injustice his people are enduring while the world is turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to their problem. As for Isabel, she always listens to his conversation with complete bewilderment as she is trying to comprehend his logic.

A novel for classical music lovers about the role and power of music in a world driven by materialism and violence and the contrast between the two values and their relevance in today’s life. It’s written by a musically trained author who preferred to pursue a career in writing rather than follow her pianistic talent.

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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.