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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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Author:
• Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Kader Abdolah was born in Arak, Iran in 1954. His real name is Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahaniand his pen name is a combined pseudonym in memory of his two executed friends from the resistance. He is the author of novels, short stories and non-fiction as well as being a columnist and poet. From an early age Kader Abdolah wanted to become a writer like his forebear, Ghaemmaghami Farahani.

While studying physics at Teheran University, Abdolah joined an underground left wing movement against the dictatorship of the Shah and later against the authoritarian Khomeini regime.

He wrote articles in an illegal journal and while still in Iran, secretly published two books describing what life was like under the Khomeini rule. He escaped in 1985 and three years later was accepted, at the invitation of the United Nations, as a political refugee in Holland.

Kader Abdolah was quick at mastering the language of his host country as much as writing all his work in Flemish. He received many honours and awards: The Golden Donkey Ear prize in 1994, the Edgar du Perron prize in 2000 for My Father’s Notebook which was first published in Dutch in 2000 and then in English in 2006. He received the 2008 decoration de chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2000 and awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Groningen in 2009. He currently lives in Delft in Holland.

After escaping Iran, Ishmael, the main character and narrator of the novel, like the author himself, becomes a political refugee in the Netherlands. While in exile he receives a parcel containing the notebook that had been written in cuneiform script by his half illiterate deaf-mute father, Aga Akbar, the talented tapestry mender and the illegitimate son of an Iranian nobleman and servant mother. Aga Akbar was acquainted with these scriptures when he was sent by his uncle to copy the three thousand-year-old ancient cuneiform inscriptions chiseled on a cave wall on Saffron Mountain.

These scriptures narrate the story of the first Persian king in history, king Cyrus, who lived 2500 years ago. The author relates historical facts: We are informed that several years later the reign of king Cyrus was followed by the Qajar dynasty which ended in 1921 with a coup d’état staged by Reza Khan. Reza Khan declared himself the new king of Persia and established the Pahlavi Kingdom. He was in turn followed by his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in 1941 and then by his prime minister, Mohamed Mosadeq, from 1951 to 1953. Ayatollah Khomeini follows in 1979 and the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is also mentioned.

Ishmael decides to translate his father’s undecipherable work of a lifetime into Dutch. He feels it is his duty to do this as a painful, nostalgic, fond commemoration to his deceased father and his lost motherland. Throughout the novel, Ishmael recounts a double biography: his father’s life story combined with his own. He also writes about the political and social situation in Iran.

Aga Akbar was about nine years old when his mother died. His uncle, Kazem Khan, who looked after him, realised that his nephew couldn’t read or write. He decided to encourage him by giving him a notebook and asked him to “scribble something”, at least “one page every day. Or maybe just a couple of sentences”, which he did.

My Father’s Notebook blends facts, autobiography and fiction. The novel is about the intertwined past and present of Persian culture going back thousands of years. There are the myths, poetry, geography, religion and unique rich traditions on one side and the depiction of the twentieth century life in Iran on the other. It is also about the unconditional tender love between a son and his disabled father, despite their differences.

The author’s constant navigation between the enchanting past tarnished by Iran’s present bitter reality and his new life in exile in the Netherlands, brings two parallel worlds into focus and in complete opposition due to their entirely different cultures and history – conservative Muslim Iran on the one side and secular Holland on the other.

The novel ends on a sad note tinted with a ray of hope. Golden Bell disappears and her father, Aga Akbar, who accompany her in escape is found dead by a shepherd on a cold snowy mountain. Nevertheless, Golden Bell might still be asleep in the Saffron Mountain waiting to be woken at the right time to witness a new world of justice and freedom in her country. Just like the people mentioned in The Holy Koran in the Surat “The Cave” to which the author refers to in the novel’s prologue and epilogue.

An emotionally poignant story which gives an insight into the humanitarian problems relating to political refugees and their sufferings after being uprooted from their beloved homeland by repressive regimes.

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