Tag-Archive for ◊ George ◊

• Friday, September 29th, 2017
Kate Atkinson was born in York, England in 1951. She first went to a private preparatory school before moving to Queen Anne Grammar School for Girls in York, where her parents ran a medical and surgical supplies shop. After graduating from school, she left home to study English literature at Dundee University in Scotland. Following her masters degree in 1974, she researched a postgraduate doctorate on American Literature but failed her PhD oral (viva voce) presentation. She taught at Dundee before taking several jobs throughout the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, including working as a chambermaid in order to survive with her two daughters.

Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson’s first novel, was published in 1995 and won the 1995 Whitbread Book Of the Year Award. It was such a big success that it has been adapted for radio, theatre and television, of which Atkinson wrote the screen-play herself. It was labelled at the time of its publication by the press as an “anti-family” novel. Nonetheless, it was a bestseller in many countries and was translated into several languages.

Kate Atkinson is a short-story writer, a playwright and a novelist. She has received several awards for her work and was awarded an MBE (Member Of The British Empire) in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours list. She now lives in Edinburgh in Scotland.

Behind The Scenes At The Museum begins with the brief statement of the eccentric, witty, Ruby Lennox: “I exist!”, after her conception at midnight in 1951. Ruby Lennox is born into an English middle-class family and is the youngest member of the Lennox brood. She is the main character and narrator of this family saga.

Her father, George, is a philanderer and her mother, Bunty, who is bitter and resentful about her marriage, daydreams about how her life could have been with another, better husband. The tyrannical Bunty is void of emotions save irritability.

Ruby has two sisters, the plain-looking, rebellious and melancholy, Patricia and the headstrong, manipulative, self-centred, bad-tempered, Gillian. They all live in an apartment above their parents’ pet shop in York in England.

The story that Ruby recounts with great lucidity and British black-humour, despite several tragic deaths occurring, goes briefly over the two world wars and extensively over the history of her family. She relates her mother’s unhappy, disappointing married life, her grandmother and going back as far as her 19th century great-grandmother, the beautiful, delicate, Alice who leaves her husband and young children along with the countryside life and poverty and runs off with an itinerant French photographer.

Three generations of women seeking happiness and freedom from their servile, suffocating matrimonial life. Marriages which were contracted more for convenience than for love or any kind of attraction. All the women in the novel dream of a better life. Ruby draws accurate lively images of the trials and tribulations of the dozens of her characters.

The author intertwines past and present events, going back and forth in time by adding footnotes, not necessarily in chronological order, between the chapters. An original technique of narration. She also describes the different, sometimes awkward, relationships between the characters as well as the recurrent patterns of unhappy marriages that seem to run in the family over the decades, explaining that the present demeanour of some member of the family takes its roots in the past.

After their parents’ death – father George, having had a heart attack following sex with a waitress at a family party, and mother Bunty’s demise in 1992, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Patricia and Ruby, who have been dissatisfied with their own lives and are now adults and with children of their own, decide to break their family’s recurrent, ill-fated pattern for the sake of future generations of the family.

Behind The Scenes At The Museum is a multi-layered story, not lacking sharpness nor surprises and revealing a well-kept secret towards the end, discretely hinted at in various parts of the novel.

This family saga is presented in a form of “shambolic”, fragmented accumulation of memories. Atkinson claims that her novel is not autobiographical. In one of her interviews she becomes emotional when talking about several similarities between the novel and her own childhood. She mentions her recollection of growing up the same way as her protagonist in the centre of York, above her parent’s shop.

Atkinson says: “The novel is a hymn to my relationship with the city, constructed out of history, memory and nostalgia”. As for the title of the novel, she says that after writing a few chapters, she dreamt that while she was alone, wandering and frightened in the dark in the rooms of the Castle Museum in York, “objects sprang into life”. Upon awaking, she decided “that dream was called Behind The Scenes At the Museum” and said to herself: “of course, that’s what the novel should be called”.


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• 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.