Tag-Archive for ◊ literary awards ◊

• Sunday, February 02nd, 2014

Elif Shafak was born in 1971 to Turkish parents, a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, in Strasbourg, France. Her parents divorced when she was one year old and she returned to Turkey with her mother, which left an imprint on her life. A single child raised by a single divorcee mother was an unusual situation in a patriarchal environment in Ankara in the early 1970s.

Shafak lived between her traditionalist, irrational, superstitious grandmother in Ankara and her well educated, feminist, westernised, diplomat mother, abroad. She travelled all over the world which made her a multicultural and cosmopolitan person in her life and in her writing, combining eastern and western cultures as well as traditions in her novels.

Shafak writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has won Turkish literary awards and has received several prestigious international prizes, one of them being the French honorary distinction of Chevalier des arts et des lettres in 2010.

Shafak is also a political Scientist and assistant professor. She obtained a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her Master’s thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute. She has been a teacher at various universities all over the world.

Shafak writes for a number of daily and monthly publications in Turkey and has contributed to several newspapers in Europe and in the USA as well as writing lyrics for Turkish musicians.

She lives with her two young children and Turkish husband who works as editor-in-chief for an Istanbul newspaper. She divides her time between Istanbul – the Turkish city that she is very attached to and which takes a central part in her novels – and London.

Her book, Honour, was written in English and published in 2012.

Adem Toprak is from Istanbul and his Kurdish wife, Pembe, was born and raised in a small, remote, roadless village called Mala çar Bayan located near the river Euphrates. Pembe has always longed to travel and after her marriage she moves to Istanbul, where her two children, Eskender and Esma were born. Her wish is fulfilled when her husband decides to emigrate with the family to 1970s bustling London, before the arrival of their third child Yunus.

Once in London, Adem and Pembe want to believe in love and freedom but deep inside they can’t get rid of, nor leave behind, their entrenched resistance to adapt to a different culture, nor their ingrained perception of betrayal, shame and honour.

Honour is the story of three generations of a Turkish and Kurdish family. Through the various narrators and viewpoints, the author is juxtaposing eastern and western cultures as well as conservative and modern societies.

The story revolves between Turkey and London. It starts with Esma and ends with her. Esma is the second Toprak child, a bright student. She is ambitious, independent, strong headed and destined to a bright future. The irony is that after her studies and her ambitious dreams, she ends up like her mother as a housewife. Esma has now two twin daughters following her marriage to the considerate and caring Palestinian immigrant scientific scholar, Nadir.

Yunus and Nadir become good friends. After sharing some thrills with a group of punk squatters, that he came across by chance in his early teens, Yunus becomes a successful musician with a band.
Throughout the story the author emphasizes the three siblings’ – Eskender, Esma and Yunus – different degrees of adaptation to the western world. Each one of them trying to adapt in his own way and according to the circumstances they are facing.

Feeling uprooted and lost in his new adopted country, Adem, the head of the family, has been brought up by an “at times sober, sweet and kind and at times drunken, evil and violent” father and a submissive mother who disappears out of his life at an early age. Having had this unsettled and insecure upbringing, Adem, once in London becomes an addicted gambler. He spends all his money to satisfy the needs of his Bulgarian lover, Roxana, the dancer. He eventually abandons his wife, Pembe and his three children without any income to survive on.

Adem’s wife Pembe, who is a determined and yet vulnerable character, feels just as displaced and disoriented as her husband. She finds a job in a hair-dressing saloon and finds solace in writing letters to her identical twin sister, Jamila.

Jamila, never marries – because her honour has been besmirched when kidnapped as a young girl through no fault of her own – and is living secluded in a remote place in Turkey. She becomes a midwife and a healer. She has a psychic connection with her identical twin sister and is an important character in the plot’s twist at the end of the story.

With her husband having run away with another woman, leaving her to bring-up their three children, Pembe establishes an innocent, secret relationship with a Greek cook, which will lead to her demise and lead her son Eskender to Shrewsbury prison after committing his irreparable crime by killing her for it. Eskender finds it difficult to embrace two cultures at once. He is a sympathetic character as an adult, when he is tortured by guilt and remorse and feels repentant for committing his heinous crime. Previously he was a confused teenager trying hard to find the right path on his own. He was young, without a father to guide him and with a mother who spoilt him and called him her “sultan”.

Eskender considers his mother’s irreproachable friendship with a man to be a crime and only by killing her can he restore the Toprak family honour, since his father will not undertake this task himself. Pembe has to die like her eldest sister, Hediye, who died, hanged by her family, many years earlier, for having eloped and then been forsaken by a young medical assistant.

In the novel, the author underlines that for some communities the only answer to restoring the family’s honour is death and that this code of honour is carried forward from generation to generation.

Honour has several themes: patriarchal societies, immigration, the search of identity, multiculturalism and honour code as well as honour killing – which today is still alive and well in various tribal communities all over the world. Just as domestic violence against women is also increasingly spreading all over the eastern and western world.

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• Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Lloyd Jones was born in Lower Hutt in the Wellington region of New Zealand in 1955. He studied at Hutt Valley High School and Victoria University in Wellington. In 2009 he received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University and has worked as a journalist and a consultant as well as a writer.

In 1989 he received the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship, one of New Zealand’s long-standing and prestigious literary awards.

Lloyd Jones has written several novels, short stories, children’s books and non fiction. Mister Pip, which is part of post-colonial literature, was published in 2006. It is Lloyd Jones’ best-selling novel and the one that made him internationally known. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Overall Winner, Best Book and was short-listed in 2007 for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. It also won the Kiriyama Prize and the Montana Medal for fiction the same year. It has been adapted into a feature film which will be released later in 2012. Lloyd Jones now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

The story of Mister Pip has an historical background as it relates the 1990’s Bougainville blockade by Papua New Guinea, Bougainville being rich in copper. This was an event which led to a civil war covered by Lloyd Jones who was then a journalist.

The novel starts in the early 1990’s. The narrator is the thirteen-year-old black girl, Matilda Laimo, the main character in the novel, who lives with her devout mother Dolores in a shack in Bougainville, a small tropical island in the South Pacific and a province of Papua New Guinea. The island is torn by civil war between the befuddled rebel forces called the Rambos and the atrociously inhuman government soldiers, called the Redskins. Matilda’s father, who was out of a job due to the closing down of the copper mines, left the island a few years before the blockade like several natives. He was hired to work for a mining company in Townsville, Australia and his wife Dolores and daughter Matilda were hoping to join him later but were held back by the imposed blockade.

Matilda is a child lacking paternal presence and support in her teenage life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother whom she loves and feels loyal to despite being ashamed of her reasoning, behaviour and difficulty understanding simple things.

In order to escape the atrocious reality and the horror of war surrounding them, Matilda and the other children allow themselves to be transported by the novel, Great Expectations, into an imaginary Dickensian world of 19th century Victorian England. Thanks to Mr Watts’ astuteness in transmitting his great admiration for Charles Dickens to his pupils, he takes pleasure in reading them a chapter from this well known novel every day.

Matilda says: “He kept reading and we kept listening” and when “the flow of words had ended, slowly we stirred back into our bodies and our lives”. Mr Watts sums it all up in these few words: “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames. For me, Matilda, Great Expectations is such a book”.

The children were mostly fascinated by the main character, the orphan teenager, Pip, whom they could relate to. Matilda was especially under Pip’s spell. She was writing his name in the sand and with shells on the beach. Little did she know at the time that her deed would provoke the savage butchering of Mr Watts, followed by her mother’s by the Redskins who thought that Pip was one of the rebels concealed by the natives. A gruesome tragedy to intensify the abhorrent deeds carried out during these civil wars. As Lloyd Jones says about the Bougainville blockade: “the most unspeakable things happened without once raising the ire of the outside world”. Starting from 1989 and for ten years, the island was completely cut off from the world.

The skinny, solitary, Mr Watts or Pop-Eye, as everybody calls him in the village because of his protruding eyes, “eyes that wanted to leave his face”, is the baffling, self proclaimed teacher. After all the teachers leave the island, he is the only white person who remains despite the civil war, because of his native black wife, Grace, whom he met in New Zealand while she was studying dentistry and followed her home. They both live in the old mission house. Mr Watts is from New Zealand and is a bizarre, elusive, mysterious person. Matilda says: “Mr Dickens was easier to understand than Mr Watts” who “was whatever he needed to be”, a teacher, a magician, a clown with a red nose and ends-up being a saviour for the community when the Redskins needed a scapegoat to slaughter and set as an example.

Later in the novel, Matilda reads Great Expectations and discovers that Mr Watts had read his own version of the novel, rather than reading the original text to the children. “His Pacific version of Great Expectations” as she calls it, or “Pip in the Pacific” as he had named it a few years earlier, proving his gift as a story teller. He shows this talent when he gathers the whole community to recount his own story and keep them all mesmerized by his recounting: “On hearing Mr Watts’ voice the creatures shut up as well. Even the trees listened. And the old women too and with the respect they once reserved for prayer… And the Rambos were as enthralled as the rest of us”.

The author treats several powerful themes in his novel and enhances his story with his description of the natives’ naive characters, their desperation mixed with a feeling of helplessness, their uncomplicated basic existence, living of picked fruit and fishing, their gullibility, their pidgin Bible, their superstitions and their simplistic life and beliefs and their power of endurance. Nature is portrayed in a bright, colourful, enchanting way which contrasts with the sombre subject of loss and atrocious bloodshed. The once peaceful, beautiful, tropical island becomes a nightmare place.

A fascinating, original, thought provoking, poignant and captivating novel inside another novel, demonstrating the power of imagination and the effect of literature on people’s lives and how it can be an essential tool providing escapism and survival, whereby fiction and reality intertwine.