Tag-Archive for ◊ different cultures ◊

Author:
• Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Kader Abdolah was born in Arak, Iran in 1954. His real name is Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahaniand his pen name is a combined pseudonym in memory of his two executed friends from the resistance. He is the author of novels, short stories and non-fiction as well as being a columnist and poet. From an early age Kader Abdolah wanted to become a writer like his forebear, Ghaemmaghami Farahani.

While studying physics at Teheran University, Abdolah joined an underground left wing movement against the dictatorship of the Shah and later against the authoritarian Khomeini regime.

He wrote articles in an illegal journal and while still in Iran, secretly published two books describing what life was like under the Khomeini rule. He escaped in 1985 and three years later was accepted, at the invitation of the United Nations, as a political refugee in Holland.

Kader Abdolah was quick at mastering the language of his host country as much as writing all his work in Flemish. He received many honours and awards: The Golden Donkey Ear prize in 1994, the Edgar du Perron prize in 2000 for My Father’s Notebook which was first published in Dutch in 2000 and then in English in 2006. He received the 2008 decoration de chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2000 and awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Groningen in 2009. He currently lives in Delft in Holland.

After escaping Iran, Ishmael, the main character and narrator of the novel, like the author himself, becomes a political refugee in the Netherlands. While in exile he receives a parcel containing the notebook that had been written in cuneiform script by his half illiterate deaf-mute father, Aga Akbar, the talented tapestry mender and the illegitimate son of an Iranian nobleman and servant mother. Aga Akbar was acquainted with these scriptures when he was sent by his uncle to copy the three thousand-year-old ancient cuneiform inscriptions chiseled on a cave wall on Saffron Mountain.

These scriptures narrate the story of the first Persian king in history, king Cyrus, who lived 2500 years ago. The author relates historical facts: We are informed that several years later the reign of king Cyrus was followed by the Qajar dynasty which ended in 1921 with a coup d’état staged by Reza Khan. Reza Khan declared himself the new king of Persia and established the Pahlavi Kingdom. He was in turn followed by his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in 1941 and then by his prime minister, Mohamed Mosadeq, from 1951 to 1953. Ayatollah Khomeini follows in 1979 and the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is also mentioned.

Ishmael decides to translate his father’s undecipherable work of a lifetime into Dutch. He feels it is his duty to do this as a painful, nostalgic, fond commemoration to his deceased father and his lost motherland. Throughout the novel, Ishmael recounts a double biography: his father’s life story combined with his own. He also writes about the political and social situation in Iran.

Aga Akbar was about nine years old when his mother died. His uncle, Kazem Khan, who looked after him, realised that his nephew couldn’t read or write. He decided to encourage him by giving him a notebook and asked him to “scribble something”, at least “one page every day. Or maybe just a couple of sentences”, which he did.

My Father’s Notebook blends facts, autobiography and fiction. The novel is about the intertwined past and present of Persian culture going back thousands of years. There are the myths, poetry, geography, religion and unique rich traditions on one side and the depiction of the twentieth century life in Iran on the other. It is also about the unconditional tender love between a son and his disabled father, despite their differences.

The author’s constant navigation between the enchanting past tarnished by Iran’s present bitter reality and his new life in exile in the Netherlands, brings two parallel worlds into focus and in complete opposition due to their entirely different cultures and history – conservative Muslim Iran on the one side and secular Holland on the other.

The novel ends on a sad note tinted with a ray of hope. Golden Bell disappears and her father, Aga Akbar, who accompany her in escape is found dead by a shepherd on a cold snowy mountain. Nevertheless, Golden Bell might still be asleep in the Saffron Mountain waiting to be woken at the right time to witness a new world of justice and freedom in her country. Just like the people mentioned in The Holy Koran in the Surat “The Cave” to which the author refers to in the novel’s prologue and epilogue.

An emotionally poignant story which gives an insight into the humanitarian problems relating to political refugees and their sufferings after being uprooted from their beloved homeland by repressive regimes.

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Author:
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on the 24th November 1961, the daughter of a Christian woman from Kerala and a Bengali Hindu tea planter. Her parents divorced when she was a child. She hardly knew her father, she only saw him a couple of times in her whole life.

“I grew up in very similar circumstances to the children in the book. My mother was divorced. I lived on the edge of the community in a very vulnerable fashion. Then when I was 16 I left home and lived on my own… in a squatter’s colony in Delhi.” She made some money by selling empty beer bottles. Later on she joined the Delhi School of Architecture.

Arundhathi Roy spent her childhood in Aymenem, province of Kerala, she said: “a lot of the atmosphere of The God of Small Things is based on my experiences of what it was like to grow up in Kerala. Most interestingly, it was the only place in the world where religions coincide, there’s Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam and they all live together and rub each other down. When I grew up it was the Marxism that was very strong, it was like revolution is coming next week. I was aware of the different cultures when I was growing up, and I am still aware of them now… To me, I couldn’t think of a better location for a book about human beings. I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives in you. I don’t think it’s true of people who have grown up in cities so much, you may love building but I don’t think you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth, it’s a different kind of love.”

“The God of Small Things is a very sad book and somehow the sadness is what stays with me. It took five years to write and I keep finding myself making an effort to be happy. A lot of people ask is it autobiographical? It’s a very difficult question to answer because I think all fiction does spring from your experience, but it’s also the melding of the imagination and your experience. It is the emotional texture of the book and the feelings which are real. Even though I think of myself as a writer, I can’t write unless it comes from within.”

Arundhati Roy’s first novel “The God of Small Things”, was published on April 4th 1997 in Delhi and won the Booker prize in London on October 14th 1997. The rights to her book were sold in 21 countries and was translated to 18 languages. Two weeks later, nearly 400,000 copies had been sold all over the world. It has since topped the best-seller lists everywhere. In October 1997 Arundhati Roy became the first non-expatriate Indian author and the first Indian woman to win the Booker prize.

After “The God of Small Things” was published, Arundhati Roy dedicated her time and effort to other non-fiction subjects. She wrote books like “The Cost of Living” in 1999, “The Algebra of Injustice” in 2002, “Power Politics” in 2002, “War Talk” in 2003, “An Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire” in 2004, “Public Power In The Age of Empire” in 2004, and “The Check Book” and “The Cruise Missile” in 2004.

She also wrote essays, articles and has given several speeches. “Insult and Injury in Afghanistan” in 2001, “War is Peace” in 2001, “Stop Bombing Afghanistan” and “Instant Democracy” in 2003.

In 2002 she was awarded the Lannan Foundation’s cultural Freedom Award “for her ongoing work in the struggle for freedom, justice and cultural diversity.” And in 2004 she won the Sydney Peace Prize “for her work in social campaigns and her advocacy of non-violence”.

She was presented with the Sahitya Akademi award in 2006 for her collection of essays on contemporary issues in her book “The Algebra of Infinite Justice”, but she declined to accept it.

The God of Small Things is set in Aymenem, a province of Kerala, in southern India, in 1969. It is a story of the decline and fall of an Indian family.

After the death of Sophie Mol and the scandal of Ammu and Velutha, the whole family is shattered beyond retrieve.

The story is narrated by seven year old Rahel who moves crabwise, backwards and forwards. In fact it’s a constant shuttle between the twins Rahel and Estha’s past. They learn that things can change in a day and that life can take sometimes an ugly twist. “A few dozen hours can affect the outcome of a whole lifetime” Estha predicted. It took only Chacko’s ex English wife, Margaret Kochamma and his daughter, Sophie Mol, to arrive on a Christmas visit to Aymenem for the tragedy to unfold. Estha will go through a terrible experience with “the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man” that no child should ever experience. It’s also during this visit that Ammu will discover her love to the untouchable Velutha, and that Sophie Mol will drown in the river and die.

The book begins from the end, the whole story is a flash back. The novel tackles important issues like family, race and class. Through the narrator we are confronted with a very conservative society, no one is allowed to break the rules or cross the frontier of long established things.

The novel portrays very varied characters, some endearing and some less so. The description of the landscape is detailed which helps the reader to be transported to Aymenem.

Arundhati Roy’s style of writing is original and unique. She plays with words, repeats sentences, creates her own vocabulary “a viable, dieable age”. “Little Man. He lived in a caravan. Dum dum”.

“For me, the way words and paragraphs fall on the page matters as well ?the graphic design of the language. That was why the words and thoughts of Estha and Rahel were so playful on the page…Words were broken apart, and then sometimes fused together. “Later” became. “Lay. Ter”. “An owl” become “A Nowl”. “Sour metal smell” became “sourmetalsmell”.

“Repetition I love, and used because it made me feel safe. Repeated words and phrases have a rocking feeling, like a lullaby. They help take away the shock of the plot.”

“The God of Small Things” is not just about small things, it’s about how the smallest things connect to the biggest things – that’s the important thing. And that’s what writing will always be about for me…”