Tag-Archive for ◊ invaders ◊

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.

If you enjoyed reading this article or found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a cup of coffee to help maintain the site...
Author:
• Saturday, May 01st, 2010

John le Carré, who’s real name is David John Moore Cornwell, was born in 1931 in Poole, Dorset in the south west of England. He went to Sherborne school in Dorset, followed by one year study of German literature in the University of Bern, Switzerland (1948-1949). He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford in 1956 with a first-class honours degree in modern languages.

Le Carré taught French and German at Eton school for two years from 1956 to 1958 and became a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964 as Secretary in the British Embassy in Bonn and as Political Consul in Hamburg. He started writing books in 1961 and is well known for his espionage, thriller novels. He has written twenty two novels to date, one non-fiction book, a few short stories and screen plays.

Le Carré has been married twice: once in 1954 and the second time in 1972. He has four sons, three from his first wife and one from his second. He has twelve grandchildren.  John le Carré hates cities, he lives today in Cornwall with his second wife.

In The Mission Song, like in The Constant Gardener, John le Carré describes the exploitation of Africa by the hypocritical western powers. The introductory quotation of The Mission Song, taken from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which is about the Congo, reveals the subject of the novel.

Le Carré, in The Mission Song, gives the reader a clear and detailed account about the complexity of politics and business in The Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as an insight into who is behind the tension, the feuds between ethnic tribes and the bloodshed which killed around three to four million people from 1998 to 2003.

Following this period there was some semblance of stability in some part of the country but unfortunately not in the area of East Congo which to this day still suffers from combats and attacks against the civilian population. In particular in the province of Kivu, which happens to abound in natural resources in general and especially in minerals such as  Coltan (an important element used in electronic components) therefore attracted the interest and greed of the locals, the Congolese, the neighbours, like the Rwandans, the British and other western powers.

The story of The Mission Song is narrated by the unbelievably naïve and gullible, Bruno Salvador, a son of an Irish Catholic missionary priest and a Congolese village woman and who, eventually, becomes a British citizen. He is a polyglot and a very talented top interpreter who speaks English, French, Swahili and other African dialects spoken in Kivu, where he was born. He is a free-lancer who works for law firms, hospitals and big corporations.

Due to Bruno’s competence and to being so much in demand, the British Secret Service asks him to be the interpreter at a highly secret meeting, between an anonymous business Syndicate and some important Congolese negotiators from Kivu. The meeting takes place on an unknown island and will earn him a good sum of money in cash.

Bruno has been married for a few years to Penelope, a white well-bred, successful journalist, working for a national paper. His marriage has lost its glow and seems to be falling apart, he suspects his wife of having an affair. The “coup de grâce” comes when Bruno falls in love with a Congolese nurse, Hannah, which awakens and strengthens his loyalty and patriotism to his homeland rather than to his country of adoption and which will lead him and Hannah into great danger.

Bruno will not be able to turn a deaf ear and stay impartial or keep confidentiality, as his job demands, once he discovers the lies and deceits involved in the evil plan concocted by the avid western powers. The plan requires the help of the corrupt African leaders from the different ethnic tribes in Kivu in order to stage a coup d’état and create a war, which will endanger his homeland, his beloved people and give a free hand to the wicked and immoral commercial entity, called “The Syndicate” to control the Congo.

At first, Bruno was enthusiastic because he thought by accepting this mission he was helping in creating peace in Congo. He was made to believe that the Westerners wanted to establish peace by freeing Kivu from the Rwandan invaders who are stealing Kivu’s wealth. The British gave him to understand that they wanted to get ahead of the forthcoming elections in Congo by helping the old, mystic, religious, likeable, Mwangaza (which means enlightenment in Swahili) to get into power, not mentioning their intention to install a puppet regime with a puppet ruler and, of course, establish democracy and give back to the people of Kivu the wealth that belongs to them.

The Mission Song, published in 2006, is a fictional story condemning the corruption and exploitation of the African people by the western powers for their commercial interest, greed and racism. Unfortunately, the continuing massacres, in the Kivu region of The Republic of Congo even today tend to shed a sad and realistic light onto the novel.