Tag-Archive for ◊ home town ◊

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, February 17th, 2013

Emili Rosales was born in 1968 in Spain’s Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He spent his childhood and adolescence in his home town before moving to Barcelona to study philology. He worked as a literature teacher and translator and currently is editor and contributor to the newspapers Avui and La Vanguardia. He lives in Barcelona and is a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers.

Emili Rosales has written two poetry books:
Cities and Sea, published in 1989 and The Days and You, published in 1991.
He has also written four novels to date:
The Beach House, published in 1995, Lord of The Earth in 1997, While Barcelona sleeps in 1999 and The Invisible City in 2005.

The Invisible City became a best seller and has been translated into twenty five languages. The English version was published in 2009. It won the prestigious Catalan literary prize: The Sant Jordi Prize, was selected among the five best novels in Spain in 2006 and was short-listed in 2007 for the Prix Médicis Etranger in France.

Emili Rossell, the main character in the novel, is a young gallery owner in Barcelona, born and raised in Sant Carles de la Ràpita – like the author himself. One day he receives an anonymous parcel containing a copy of an 18th century manuscript written in Italian and entitled: The Memoirs of the Invisible City, written by Andrea Roselli, the Italian architect of king Charles III of Spain, who reigned from 1759 to 1788. This manuscript reawakens Rossell’s great childhood interest in the mystery of the so-called “Invisible City” in his home town, a riddle that even the adults around him couldn’t solve.

Emili Rossell mentions the invisible city of his “childhood games” out of the blue to his school friend, Armand Coll. After examining his encyclopedia, Armand informs his friend that: “Sant Carles de la Ràpita constitutes a mystery within the failed projects of the Enlightenment. It was first designed to be a grand, new city, but at some point the project came to a halt, no one knows exactly why… What was not yet a reality, soon became a pile of ruins. These are the ruins where you and your friends played and scattered pigeons”.

The author skillfully connects the past and present by constructing two parallel, intertwining plots in an architectural way. On the one hand, the aborted plans and unfulfilled dream of king Charles III of Spain and on the other hand, the remaining ruins of this ambitious scheme in the Ebro delta two centuries later. The relics of this unfinished work becomes the playground for the child, Emili Rossell and his friends, who are unaware of the history of these vestiges.

King Charles III’s biggest ambition was to replace Madrid with a new capital which he wanted built around the Ebro delta in Catalonia under the name of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He wanted a similar city to the majestic Saint Petersburg, built by Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) on the banks of the Neva river.

This colossal plan does not materialise because of jealousy and political court intrigues. The senior royal court architect, Francesco Sabatini, who is put in charge of this gigantic project, takes the young Andrea Roselli under his wing. Everything changes when Sabatini discovers, through Tiepolo’s painting of Cecilia – intended as a present by her for her ex lover, Roselli – the romance between his wife, Cecilia and his trusted protégé.

In a jealous rage, Sabatini confronts Roselli and promises him that he will ensure that “his new city” will never exist, and “the privileges he had enjoyed so far will be taken from him”. Roselli knows that Francesco Sabatini is capable of persuading the king to bring the project to a halt, which he does.

What was destined to become a new capital, an ideal, perfect, great artistic and commercial city promoting trade between Spain and America, instead becomes a fishermans’ town. Sabatini has effectively destroyed Roselli’s career and promising future as well as alienating him. Nevertheless, some unfinished buildings will remain until the twentieth century as a witness to this agitated period.

The story also includes the mystery of the lost painting by the famous eighteenth century Venetian master, Giambattista Tiepolo. It goes missing soon after his death and Emili Rossell’s beautiful old friend, Sofia Mendizàbal, is desperately trying to find it two centuries later, by pleading the help of Rossell.

The plot contains the enigma around the hidden identity of Emili Rossell’s father. A secret well kept by his family and which haunted him during his childhood. He learns at an early age never to ask about the father he has never known, feeling a heavy hidden sense of shame and culpability. He loses interest as an adult but eventually discovers his father’s identity towards the end of the novel.

As we embark on an intimate journey with Andrea Roselli and Emili Rossell, we discover that they both have things in common such as a complicated relationship with women, whether it’s Cecilia with Andrea Roselli or Ariadna, Chloe or Sofia with Emili Rossell. Another thing they both share is having to settle accounts with their own past.

The Invisible City is an interesting, thrilling and intriguing story with an elaborate plot that manages to bring all the mysterious loose threads together in the end. There is a useful and abundant description of architecture. It’s a good insight into king Charles III of Spain’s reign and no doubt a great amount of research and maybe traveling by the author was needed in order to situate his novel in historical context. But most important of all it is the hymn of praise to Emili Rosales’ native home town, Sant Carles de la Ràpita.

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