Tag-Archive for ◊ detailed description ◊

Author:
• Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Alistair MacLeod was born in 1936 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. When Alistair MacLeod was ten his family moved to a farm in Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island and after high school, he studied at St. Francis Xavier University, graduating with BA and B.Ed. degrees. In 1961 he obtained an MA degree from the University of New Brunswick and in 1968 a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

He taught English for three years at Indiana University followed by a post at the University of Windsor, Ontario in 1969 as a professor of English and Creative Writing. Alistair MacLeod is a father of six children. He is retired and lives with his wife in Windsor, Ontario and they spend their summers on Cape Breton Island.

MacLeod has written a number of short stories: The lost Salt Gift of Blood, published in 1976 and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories in 1986. All his short stories have been collected into a single volume entitled Island: the Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod.

He has also written novels: No Great Mischief, his first novel, which took him thirteen years to write, was published in 1999 and received several awards and nominations. To Every Thing There is a Season was published in 2004 and Never Die Wondering in 2009. In 2008, Alistair MacLeod received the insignia as an officer of the Order of Canada for all his work.

No Great Mischief recounts the saga of the Scottish Highlanders, the clan MacDonald. In 1779, at the age of 55, Calum Ruadh (Calum the Red) MacDonald leaves his native Scotland with his large family – his wife, his twelve children and his dog – in an attempt to escape poverty and try his luck in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in Canada.

Two centuries later, in 1980 in Ontario, Alexander MacDonald, the narrator, is a successful orthodontist. At the age of three he was raised with his twin sister by their grandparents, while his three elder brothers were left to raise themselves following their parents’ drowning with 11 year old brother Colin, on a treacherous frozen sea in early spring. The novel starts with Alexander MacDonald going for his weekly visit to his broken-down, impoverished, alcoholic, elder brother, Calum, who lives in a run-down part of Toronto.

Alexander MacDonald is the great, great, great grand-child of Calum Ruadh MacDonald and one of the three cousins, called Alexander MacDonald in the novel. He evokes his clan’s stories, past and present, with its sad and tragic but also hopeful and joyful moments. The author mentions great battles like, Glencoe, Killiecrankie and Culloden in addition to other important events in Scottish history, as well as old traditional Highlanders’ Celtic songs. These stories have been passed on from generation to generation as part of their Scottish heritage, ensuring they are never forgotten but at the same time not forgetting that “living in the past is not living up to (one’s) potential”.

In the past the MacDonald clan faced hardship in their native land. Now exiled in Canada, the adversities continue, which make them resigned to their fate. They believe very strongly in keeping their identity and their dignity, while remaining loyal to their families, clans, countrymen and by following the old saying that “blood is thicker than water”. The credos they value are also: “We are all better when we’re loved” and Robert the Bruce’s quote from 1314: “My hope is constant in thee, clan Donald”. The MacDonald’s clan fought alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.

The author underlines that even the MacDonald’s dogs and horses are faithful to them, like the members of the clan are loyal to each other. They kept the same family of dogs over the centuries. As Grandpa said after the death of their devoted dog: “ She was descended from the original Calum Ruadh dog… It was in those dogs to care too much and to try too hard” and Calum’s trustworthy horse, Christy, who “always kept her part of the bargain”.

The novel’s title refers to a letter written by General James Wolfe who describes in a disdainful way the Highlanders who were fighting under his command on the Plains of Abraham, outside Quebec city in 1759. He writes: “They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country and no great mischief if they fall”. The General “was furious at the Highlanders because they wouldn’t retreat until they had carried their own wounded from the field” despite being ordered to leave them on the battle ground. They braved the enemy’s fire and disobeyed the order of the General because “they were probably fighting with their hearts rather than their heads”.

No Great Mischief is an elaborate touching story, emotionally strong, interspersed by ancient Celtic myths and anecdotes. The main themes are: the exile and the attachment that exists between the man and his own land, family blood ties, loyalty and dignity, going through several generations.

A poignant and tragic account at times, hilarious and light hearted at others. Beautifully written with well developed characters – grandpa and grandma being particularly endearing. It’s an authentic, heartfelt depiction of the belonging, allegiance and expectations of the exiled Scots from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where MacLeod, himself was raised in Scottish surroundings with an oral rich tradition. The detailed description of the landscapes and especially the ocean, which is often described in various part of the story, enhances the account of this enticing novel.

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Author:
• Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Carlos Ruiz Zafon was born in Barcelona in 1964. He started his writing career with four fiction books for young adults and in 1993 was awarded the Spanish Edebé literary prize for one of them: The Prince of Mist.

His first fiction for adults and big success, The Shadow of the Wind, was published in 2002 and translated into several languages. Zafon, also a screen writer, has been living in Los Angeles since 1993, but has kept his house in Barcelona.

The Angel’s Game, published in Spanish in 2008 and in English in 2009 and translated into several other languages, is reminiscent of Zafon’s first successful novel, The Shadow of the Wind. The two books have in common the Gothic atmosphere, the world of literature which involves the love of books and the book-selling universe, plus the cemetery of forgotten books.

The story, charmingly and humorously narrated with sarcasm in parts by the leading character, David Martin, is set in Barcelona. It starts in 1917 and ends in 1945, but the main series of events take place in the 1920s.

David Martin, born into a poor family, had a tormented childhood with a violent father and a mother who abandoned him. He found solace in books and became a book-lover and an ardent reader at an early age. Later he became an acclaimed writer because of his sensational stories of the doomed citizens of Barcelona. Just like Zafon, Martin was influenced by the nineteenth century writers and especially his favourite English novelist, Charles Dickens, who portrayed destitute Londoners and wrote about the importance of reforming the society of his time.

Martin was approached by a mysterious recluse French publisher, Andreas Corelli, who made him a financial offer he couldn’t refuse. He had to write a book like no other, a book about a new religion, a book that will take hold of the populace’s heart and mind. Martin accepted the deal without suspecting that he was selling his soul to the devil, it is a Faustian bargain with all it entailed, a high price to pay. Martin finds himself going through a dark labyrinth of an eerie universe involving tragic intrigues, murders and deceptions, in a supernatural environment of mysterious adventures and unfulfilled tragic romance.

The Angel’s Game is a book about the power of books and their consequences on some people’s lives, a lyric apologia for books, book reading and book writing. It is a densely dark novel about good and evil with regard to the human soul. A highly complex plot, teeming with characters and events, evolving in a supernatural world.

Despite the lengthy and wearisome theological debates between Martin and Corelli and the disappointingly melodramatic rushed epilogue, The Angel’s Game remains an enthralling novel conceived with intensely vivid imagination. The rich, detailed description of the City of Barcelona gives some depth to the story and makes the city stand out as another character in the novel.

In one of his interviews, Zafon has mentioned that The Shadow of The Wind is about redemption and the Angel’s Game is about damnation. Then he stressed that “our choices make us who we are”. It is up to any person to decide if he wants to think for himself or if he would rather surrender to other people’s beliefs.