Tag-Archive for ◊ Europe ◊

Author:
• Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marie Ndiaye is a French national, born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France to a French mother and a Senegalese father. Her parents separated when she was one-year-old with her father leaving for Africa and her eldest brother and herself being brought up in the Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine by their teacher mother.

After finishing primary and secondary schools, NDiaye went to the Sorbonne to study linguistics, which led to her obtaining a grant from the French Academy to stay in the Villa Médicis in Rome.

NDiaye started writing in her teens with her first novel, “Quant au riche avenir”, published in 1985 when she was eighteen years old. She is the most widely read and critically acclaimed, living French writer. To date she has written adults’ and children’s novels, short stories, plays, an essay and a screen play. She received the prix Femina in 2001 for “Rosie Carpe” and the distinguished prix Goncourt in 2009 for Three Strong Women. Her stage play: “Papa doit manger”, became part of the repertory of the prestigious, Comédie Française in 2003.

Marie NDiaye left France in 2007 after Nicolas Sarkozy became president and currently lives with her husband and their three children in Berlin.

Three Strong Women was originally published in French in 2009 and in English in 2012.

Three women, three different fates and two countries: France and Senegal. In the three novellas that form this book, three women: Norah, the lawyer, Fanta, the former literature teacher and Khady Demba, the uneducated servant who becomes a childless widow, all fight against the adversity of life with an unparalleled obsessive determination.

The three stories are loosely intertwined. When Norah, in the first story, is urgently called by her estranged, unloving, overbearing, uncaring father, to leave Paris and join him in Senegal to defend her imprisoned brother, Sony, in court, she meets Khady who works in her father’s house as a maid. Norah is in her late thirties, a successful lawyer in Paris and has a seven-year-old daughter, Lucie. Norah has a complicated life. She has been living a frustratingly unhappy year of her life with her unruly, unemployed, German partner, Jakob, and his seven-year-old daughter, Grete.

In the second story, the Senegalese, Fanta, like her husband Rudy, a French literature teacher in the reputable lycée Mermoz in Dakar, has to quit her job for a teaching position in France promised by Rudy. She follows her disgraced French husband to his native province, la Gironde, in the south west of France with their young son Djibril. Once in France and without a job, Fanta becomes unhappy and reclusive. We learn about her through her lonely failure of a husband, Rudy, who feels remorse for inflicting his low self-esteem torment on his wife. He is depressed, paranoid and suffers from chronic haemorrhoids.

The same Khady Demba, the maid in the first story reappears a few years later in the third story as a destitute, childless widow. She is forced by her in-laws to emigrate to France and send them money after receiving help from a distant cousin, Fanta, who is regarded as being rich because she is teaching and therefore earning a good salary.

Khady Demba, like Norah and Fanta, is not easily deterred in the face of adversity. With an imponderable pride and a discreet unshakeable assurance, she keeps telling herself: I am me, Khady Demba. She is young, healthy and unstoppable. She knows she has nothing, really nothing to lose and additionally she has been told by her mother-in-law before leaving, that if things go wrong she is not to return back to live with them.

The author gives an insight into three types of migration between Africa and Europe and in the case of Khady Demba, the big problem of loss of life among the “Boat people” who are putting themselves in danger in the hope of better living conditions in “rich” European countries.

Through her lengthy (paragraph length) sentences and her incomparable style of writing, NDiaye describes in depth and with great accuracy, in her triptych, the suffering, unhappiness, despair and endurance as well as the distress and painful life of three women. The three protagonists don’t share the same background but nevertheless have a determination for survival and enduring hardship in common, in order to reach their target and impose their identity in a patriarchal world.

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Author:
• Sunday, February 02nd, 2014

Elif Shafak was born in 1971 to Turkish parents, a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, in Strasbourg, France. Her parents divorced when she was one year old and she returned to Turkey with her mother, which left an imprint on her life. A single child raised by a single divorcee mother was an unusual situation in a patriarchal environment in Ankara in the early 1970s.

Shafak lived between her traditionalist, irrational, superstitious grandmother in Ankara and her well educated, feminist, westernised, diplomat mother, abroad. She travelled all over the world which made her a multicultural and cosmopolitan person in her life and in her writing, combining eastern and western cultures as well as traditions in her novels.

Shafak writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has won Turkish literary awards and has received several prestigious international prizes, one of them being the French honorary distinction of Chevalier des arts et des lettres in 2010.

Shafak is also a political Scientist and assistant professor. She obtained a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her Master’s thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute. She has been a teacher at various universities all over the world.

Shafak writes for a number of daily and monthly publications in Turkey and has contributed to several newspapers in Europe and in the USA as well as writing lyrics for Turkish musicians.

She lives with her two young children and Turkish husband who works as editor-in-chief for an Istanbul newspaper. She divides her time between Istanbul – the Turkish city that she is very attached to and which takes a central part in her novels – and London.

Her book, Honour, was written in English and published in 2012.

Adem Toprak is from Istanbul and his Kurdish wife, Pembe, was born and raised in a small, remote, roadless village called Mala çar Bayan located near the river Euphrates. Pembe has always longed to travel and after her marriage she moves to Istanbul, where her two children, Eskender and Esma were born. Her wish is fulfilled when her husband decides to emigrate with the family to 1970s bustling London, before the arrival of their third child Yunus.

Once in London, Adem and Pembe want to believe in love and freedom but deep inside they can’t get rid of, nor leave behind, their entrenched resistance to adapt to a different culture, nor their ingrained perception of betrayal, shame and honour.

Honour is the story of three generations of a Turkish and Kurdish family. Through the various narrators and viewpoints, the author is juxtaposing eastern and western cultures as well as conservative and modern societies.

The story revolves between Turkey and London. It starts with Esma and ends with her. Esma is the second Toprak child, a bright student. She is ambitious, independent, strong headed and destined to a bright future. The irony is that after her studies and her ambitious dreams, she ends up like her mother as a housewife. Esma has now two twin daughters following her marriage to the considerate and caring Palestinian immigrant scientific scholar, Nadir.

Yunus and Nadir become good friends. After sharing some thrills with a group of punk squatters, that he came across by chance in his early teens, Yunus becomes a successful musician with a band.
Throughout the story the author emphasizes the three siblings’ – Eskender, Esma and Yunus – different degrees of adaptation to the western world. Each one of them trying to adapt in his own way and according to the circumstances they are facing.

Feeling uprooted and lost in his new adopted country, Adem, the head of the family, has been brought up by an “at times sober, sweet and kind and at times drunken, evil and violent” father and a submissive mother who disappears out of his life at an early age. Having had this unsettled and insecure upbringing, Adem, once in London becomes an addicted gambler. He spends all his money to satisfy the needs of his Bulgarian lover, Roxana, the dancer. He eventually abandons his wife, Pembe and his three children without any income to survive on.

Adem’s wife Pembe, who is a determined and yet vulnerable character, feels just as displaced and disoriented as her husband. She finds a job in a hair-dressing saloon and finds solace in writing letters to her identical twin sister, Jamila.

Jamila, never marries – because her honour has been besmirched when kidnapped as a young girl through no fault of her own – and is living secluded in a remote place in Turkey. She becomes a midwife and a healer. She has a psychic connection with her identical twin sister and is an important character in the plot’s twist at the end of the story.

With her husband having run away with another woman, leaving her to bring-up their three children, Pembe establishes an innocent, secret relationship with a Greek cook, which will lead to her demise and lead her son Eskender to Shrewsbury prison after committing his irreparable crime by killing her for it. Eskender finds it difficult to embrace two cultures at once. He is a sympathetic character as an adult, when he is tortured by guilt and remorse and feels repentant for committing his heinous crime. Previously he was a confused teenager trying hard to find the right path on his own. He was young, without a father to guide him and with a mother who spoilt him and called him her “sultan”.

Eskender considers his mother’s irreproachable friendship with a man to be a crime and only by killing her can he restore the Toprak family honour, since his father will not undertake this task himself. Pembe has to die like her eldest sister, Hediye, who died, hanged by her family, many years earlier, for having eloped and then been forsaken by a young medical assistant.

In the novel, the author underlines that for some communities the only answer to restoring the family’s honour is death and that this code of honour is carried forward from generation to generation.

Honour has several themes: patriarchal societies, immigration, the search of identity, multiculturalism and honour code as well as honour killing – which today is still alive and well in various tribal communities all over the world. Just as domestic violence against women is also increasingly spreading all over the eastern and western world.