Tag-Archive for ◊ French Legion d’Honneur ◊

Author:
• Friday, February 24th, 2012

Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in Southern Albania in 1936, into a non-religious family. His father was a civil servant and his mother was from a wealthy family. He went to primary and secondary school in Gjirokastër followed by language studies at the University of Tirana in the faculty of history and philology where he obtained a teaching diploma in 1956. He continued his studies at the Maxim Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow until 1960.

Kadare was a member of the Albanian parliament from 1970 to 1982, but after some strife with the authorities in 1975 over a politically satirical poem, he was not allowed to publish any of his work for three years. He was also accused by the president of the league of Albanian Writers and Artists of intentionally avoiding to write about politics by writing mainly about history and myths. This was missing the point that Kadare preferred to use these means as an allegory to tackle the current political issues without fearing the repercussions.

Kadare, who is an eminent figure in Albania since the sixties, sought and obtained asylum in France before the fall of communism in his country. He stated at the time that: “Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible…The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship”. Since 1990 he lives both in Paris and Tirana.

Kadare is a prolific writer. His first collection of poetry was published in 1954 and his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published in 1963. He has also written essays and short stories.

His most recent book, Ghost Rider, was published in 2011 and his novels have been published in more than forty countries. In 1992 he won the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca and in 1998 he was the first Albanian to be presented with the prestigious French Legion d’Honneur. In 2005 he won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize and in 2009 he won the Prince of Asturia Award of Arts. He has frequently been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In Albania The Siege was first called The Drums of Rain, (the title later given to the French edition) but was at last published in 1970 in Albanian under the title The Castle, at a time when Albania was still under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. The English version, called The Siege, was published in 2009.

The story which takes place in the early fifteenth century, is of an imaginary siege of an unknown Albanian fortress besieged by the Ottoman Turkish army during the time of George Castrioti. Historically, George Castrioti, known as Skanderbeg, meaning Lord Alexander or Iskander Bey by the Turks, has been the national Albanian hero who bravely fought the mighty Ottomans during the peek of their strength for more than twenty years, when they were the most feared army of the time. He stood as the fierce saviour of Christianity against Islam. It was the confrontation of two cultures and two different religious beliefs, the crescent against the cross, the nowadays so-called: “clash of civilisations”. The historical fact is that after Castrioti’s death in1468, Albania was defeated and became part of the Ottoman empire and is today a predominantly Muslim European Country.

In The Siege, Tursun Pasha, the commander in chief of the Ottoman army, is commissioned to encircle the Albanian fortress which stands amidst fields, assail its people and subjugate them. His fate depends on the success of this mission. He’d better be successful or else commit suicide to make amends for his defeat. As the Quartermaster says to Saruxha: “If he doesn’t win this campaign, his star will dim for good… I am sure of it. If he is beaten, the best he can hope for is banishment for life. As for the worst… The Quartermaster drew a line with his forefinger under his throat”. Tursun Pasha never confronts Skanderberg whose presence is implied in various parts of the novel. He hardly appears in the arena but is acting behind the scenes through his fighters.

Before every new chapter, there are two pages narrating the viewpoint of the non-characterised besieged. Otherwise the whole story is related from the Turks’ angle by several characters, the nameless Quartermaster General in charge of the logistics, the engineer Saruxha, the architect Giaour, the credulous and nervous historian-chronicler Mevla Celebi, the poet Saddedin, the campaign doctor Sirri Selim and the Pasha’s harem who joined the campaign but whose members are kept confined to their tent and guarded by a eunuch.

The story of The Siege, published in 1970, seems to be meant by the author (and for those who can read between the lines) as an indirect representation of the difficult times the Albanians are going through. It was during the rule of the totalitarian, Enver Hoxha and the threat of the Soviet Russians, who were at Albania’s threshold in Czechoslovakia, during the cold war period.

The author, in his novel, describes masterfully and in great detail the brutality and bloodshed in wars, also all the intricacies of a campaign of this magnitude and all that it involves. He portrays with great authenticity the psychology of the invaders and the besieged in this war of attrition: the sustained attacks by the relentless Turkish army and the steadfastness of the stoic Albanians who will not be subdued.

Although it’s an historical fact that the Ottomans ended up conquering Albania, does that make victory perpetually on the side of the technologically advanced and the brutal? Not always according to the story, which goes against historically verified truth. The author wanted to prove an ambiguous point which is not clarified. Maybe out of patriotism and pride or implying that the Enver Hoxha regime, no matter how powerful, will come to an end one day.

The Siege is an engrossing novel, well written with a lot of food for thought, especially when looked upon from today’s perspective.

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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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