Tag-Archive for ◊ experiences ◊

Author:
• Friday, June 14th, 2013

Milan Kundera was born in 1929 in Brno, the Czech Republic, from a middle class family. His father was a musicologist and a pianist. Milan learned to play the piano from his father and later studied musicology and musical composition.

Kundera finished secondary school in 1948. He then studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague for two terms, before transferring to the Film Academy to learn film direction and script writing. He graduated in 1952 and worked as lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy.

He joined the communist party in 1948 like several intellectual Czechoslovaks of the time. He was expelled from the party two years later, for having “unorthodox inclinations”. However he rejoined the party again in 1956 and was discharged once more in the seventies.

Kundera’s works were banned and he was dismissed from his teaching job by the Czechoslovak communist regime after taking part in the short-lived liberalisation movement of 1967-1968.

In 1975 Kundera and his wife left Czechoslovakia for France, where he was appointed guest professor at the University of Rennes. He was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979 and lived in exile in France, becoming a French citizen in 1981. Presently he lives with his wife in Paris.

He has written novels, a short story collection, a poetry collection, essays and drama. In 1985 he received the Jerusalem Prize and in 1987 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the international Herder Prize and in 2007 he won the Czech State Literature Prize. He was made an honorary citizen of his own home town, Brno, in 2010 and received the Ovid Prize in 2011.

“Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”, says the long exiled Kundera at the beginning of his philosophical novel Ignorance. This sentence sets the main themes of the book which are: emigration, nostalgia, the longing for homecoming and the indifference that follows once back home as well as the deliberation on recollection and about human fallibility, creating a state of amnesia and ignorance. These are topics understandably close to the author’s heart, emigration being a first-hand experience for him.

Pregnant Irena, her husband Martin and their young daughter, leave their homeland, Czechoslovakia in 1969, one year after the Russian invasion, to seek refuge in Paris.

After twenty years of exile, Irena is now a mother of two daughters and a widow. With her new Swedish companion Gustaf, they decide to go back and live in the post-communist Czech Republic.
At Paris airport, while waiting for the Prague flight, her path crosses Josef – a short time heart-throb from adolescent days. He is also by coincidence, returning to his country for a brief visit after his wife’s death and twenty years of exile in Denmark.

The two uprooted protagonists, once back home after a long absence, are disillusioned to find their past forever gone. They don’t know how to pick up the threads. They come back to a completely transformed country from the one they remember, which no longer exists except in their own memories. They feel estranged in their native land among their compatriots and their families with whom they no longer have anything in common. They suffer through loss of identity as well as solitude for not fitting in with others.

Irena and Josef’ feel that their families and friends ignore them, as well as showing no interest in their lives in exile during the past twenty years. Irena, once in Prague, invites her friends and offers them an expensive French 1985 vintage Bordeaux wine but her friends who wanted “to teach (her) a lesson in patriotism” ask to drink beer instead. Irena believes that “rejecting the wine was rejecting her. She, as the person she is now, coming back after so many years…Either she succeeds in being among them as the person she has become, or else she won’t stay” because with their aloofness and disinterest in all she has been through abroad, they are erasing twenty years of her life.

Irena, on reflection, decides that her once beloved Prague of the old days is now completely alien to her. That is when she realises with assertion that she is more mature and wants to lead a life of her own and not stay in this city as it stands now. Her apprehension for the “Great Return” to the post-communist Czech Republic, occurs at the beginning of the book during her conversation with Parisian friend, Sylvie, who encourages her to go back home and reconnect with her past. After a short visit to Prague, Irena’s presentiment is proven to be correct – she no longer belongs to this new country.

Josef also feels the same as Irena and decides to go back to Denmark to continue living true to the memory of his deceased beloved wife. He was convinced after the disappointing visit to his older brother and his wife, followed by the visit to N., a Czech friend from forty years ago. To his surprise and sorrow, he discovers that neither his friend N. nor his wife are interested in his life and experiences during all his long years abroad. Josef discovers that even his mother tongue has become unfamiliar to his ears, as if it was “some unknown language”. He wonders what happened to Czech during these last two decades while he was away.

Just like Odysseus when he came back home after being tortured by his nostalgia and was eager to return to his beloved Ithaca after his long absence. To his great astonishment and affliction, he discovers “that his life, the very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca, in the twenty years of his wanderings. And this treasure he had lost and could retrieve only by telling about it”.

The several themes meditated, philosophically analysed at length and historically paralleled with Odysseus in the Odyssey, plus the inclusion of the Czech poet Jan Skacel, the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg and the German writer,Thomas Mann, override the development of the one dimensional characters in the book. Kundera mentioned once during an interview, that the “unity” of a book can depend on its theme rather than on its plot.

The double erotic scenes at the end of the novel – between Irena and Josef on one side and her mother with Gustaf on the other, don’t enhance the story. They are gaudy and anticlimactic. They belittle the seriousness of the matters raised in the book, despite what the author says in one of his interviews that:“the erotic scene is the focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located”.

A very emotional, short, concentrated and thought provoking book. It analyses human weaknesses and therefore problems that touch many people today. These problems are unlikely to change because they have been with us since the dawn of time. Throughout the centuries, people have been pushed to emigration and homecoming with all that it entails.

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Author:
• Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Arcataca in the north of Colombia in March 1928. His parents struggling to make a living,little Gabo was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was a Colonel, a liberal veteran of the War of a Thousand Days, a hero and a very good story teller who lived an intriguing life.

His grandmother was full of superstitions, premonitions and ghost stories. She was also a very talented story teller and had the art of telling tales as if they were real.

Garcia Marquez will be deeply influenced by both his grandparents. Many years later he will use these unforgettable tales in his famous and most successful novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

“The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years Of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness.” Garcia Marquez will say later in his life: “I feel that all my writing has been about the experiences of the time I spent with my grandparents”.

When he was eight years old he went to live with his parents in Sucre, a department in the north of Colombia, due to his grandfather’s death and to his grandmother’s blindness. His father was a pharmacist. The young Garcia Marquez was sent to a boarding school in Barranquilla, a port city in Colombia. He was known as the shy, serious, non-athletic boy who wrote humorous poems and drew cartoons. At the age of twelve he was awarded a scholarship in a Jesuit-run secondary school for bright students.

After graduating at eighteen in 1946, Garcia Marquez, to please his parents, enrolled in the Bogota University as a law student against his wishes. But he didn’t like his studies. He quitted university.

His life changed when he came across Kafka’s famous book “The Metamorphosis”. He says: “I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing long time ago… That’s how my grandmother used to tell stories, the wildest things with a completely natural tone of voice.”

From now on Garcia Marquez is going to read many books and dedicate his life to writing. He started his career as a journalist and moved unto literary writing.

He wrote fiction:
“In Evil Hour in 1962
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” in 1967
“The Autumn of The Patriarch” in 1975
“Love In The Time of Cholera” in 1985
“Of Love And Other Demons” in 1994
“Strange Pilgrims” (twelve stories) in 1992
“Memories of My Melancholy Whores” in 2004

His Novellas:
“Leaf Storm”, “No One Writes To The Colonel”, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” in 1961
“The General In His Labyrinth” in 1989

He wrote non- fiction:
The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailorin 1970
The Fragrance of Guavain 1982
Clandestine in Chilein 1987
News of a Kidnappingin 1996
For The Sake Of A Country Within Reach Of The Childrenin 1998
“Living to Tell the Tale” in 2002
He also wrote many short stories.

In 1981 Garcia Marquez was awarded the French Legion d’honneur medal, and in 1982 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novel One Hundred Years of Solitude had sold 36 million copies by July 2007.

Garcia Marquez has been married since 1958 to Mercedes Barcha and has 2 children, Rodrigo Garcia, the television and film director in the USA, and Gonzalo Garcia Barcha, who also works as a title designer for the cinema in the USA.

In 1999 Garcia Marquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He lives in Mexico city.
He has released the first volume of a promised set of three volumes of his memoirs in 2002, “To Live To Tell It”, the story of his life till 1955.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” is a spell-bound novel with multiple events and stories. An epic, like La Chanson de Roland, it has its base seamlessly interwoven from reality combined with fantasy. A chronicle of life and death. A tragicomedy with many characters and through these characters we are introduced to the life of the mythical village of Macondo which is in reality the story of Colombia and its civil war between the Liberals and the Conservatives which had the peak of its bloodshed in 1899 and ended in late 1902.

And like his novella, “In Evil Hour”, where Garcia Marquez writes about the killing of a hundred and fifty thousand Colombians by 1953, in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” Marquez describes the terrible massacre of a hundred thousand people with the defeat of the Liberals. Garcia Marquez’s grandfather fought in that war. He also wrote about the anti western massive workers strike against The United Fruit Company and their banana plantations in Macondo, and the massacre that followed.

The author has mixed together reality, fantasy and history with great magical success. The influence of Marquez’s grandparents is strongly felt in the book, with the raging war between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the mysterious gypsies, like the enigmatic Melquiades and his prophecies, and his ghost that kept on appearing and disappearing in the house. Also the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar who keeps on inviting itself into José Arcadio Buendia’s house after being killed by the latter because of jealousy over his wife Ursula. For many years after his death he will haunt the house in search of water to clean its wound and Ursula taking pity on him and leaving for him water jugs in every corner of the house.

The story of Macondo is the story of the people who founded the village from beginning to end during a hundred years. It all started with “twenty adobe houses,built on the bank of a river of clear water… It was a truly happy village where no one was over thirty years of age and no one had died.” The head of the tribe was José Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula Iguaran. They will have children, grand children and great grand children. Five generations of descendants, who all seem to follow the same pattern of character, each living his self imposed “solitude” and despair, their own way.

José Arcadio Buendia is fascinated by the unknown, sadly he is incapable of differentiating between magic and knowledge. He has his lab where he works and tries all sorts of inventions in the hope of making gold, till he ends up going mad.

Ursula Iguaran, his wife, is hard working, she cleans, cooks, and has a little business in candy animals, and raises the offspring of the Buendia family. She is strong-willed and remains lucid till her death at over a hundred years old.

It’s a gigantic saga where cruel and violent reality are mixed with a wholly fantastic world of the author’s fertile imagination. All the people killed during the war. Aureliano, the military leader, and his prolific sex life. He had seventeen children from seventeen women, all queuing to have heroes from him. The tragedies of Renata Remedios who couldn’t marry the man she loved, her mother’s guard fired a bullet into his spine “which reduced him to his bed for the rest of his life. He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest…tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies.” Renata Remedios was put by her mother into a convent for the rest of her life. The tragic death of Amaranta Ursula while delivering the baby she was carrying from her nephew.

Funny moments, like Mauricio Babilonia and his trail of yellow butterflies, the tricks that the grandchildren played on their nearly blind grandmother Ursula. And Remedios the Beauty who ascends to heaven with a sheet while hanging out laundry in the back yard. Not to forget the most unusual insomnia illness and collective amnesia, a weird “plague” that attacks the whole village, an infection from some Indians who were passing the village with gypsies.

Garcia’s style is easy, natural and simple. Without any doubt he mastered the art of magical realism. He skillfully blends the tragic and the comic in his astonishing novel where there is always a new amazing happening. Like a magician, under his wound Macondo becomes an enchanted village from The One Thousand And One Nights. Pungent with life, the surreal, undefined, uncertain, whether it’s time, place or people, seem to be most conventional in the novel.

Unfortunately, Macondo the village of mirages is cut off from any civilisation, it has prostitution, incest, and “Solitude”, so like its inhabitants it was doomed to disappear. The incestuous marriage of José Arcadio Buendia and Ursula and five generations later the relationship between Aureliano Babilonia and his aunt Amaranta Ursula, resulting in having a baby born with a pigtail, illustrate what Pilar Ternare,the fortune teller knew : “There was no mystery in the heart of a Buendia that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.”

Macondo the village of all fantasies goes back to oblivion with its inhabitants after witnessing a hundred years of violence, cruelty, love, passion, hatred, ghosts, fantasy, prostitution, incest, but most important of all, witnessing One Hundred Years of Solitude.

 

 

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