Tag-Archive for ◊ Rain ◊

Author:
• Friday, September 27th, 2013

Luanne Rice, the eldest of three daughters, was born in 1955 in New Britain, Connecticut into an Irish catholic family. Her father was a typewriter salesman and her mother an English teacher.

After finishing high school education, Rice studied History of Art at Connecticut College but wasn’t able to continue her studies further because her father’s grave illness obliged her to seek work.

Rice’s first poem was published in The Hartford Courant newspaper when she was just eleven years old and her first short story in American Girl Magazine at the early age of fifteen.

Luanne’s debut novel, Angels All Over Town, was published in 1985. Since then, writing became a full time job for her. She is a prolific writer with her novels having been translated into several languages and some of them made into films, TV mini-series and theatre productions. She is the New York Times’ best selling author.

Rice is a dedicated ecologist and a nature lover. She has written essays on migrating birds, oceans and offshore drilling. She is also devoted to helping women victims of domestic violence. In 2002 she received an honorary degree as Bachelor of Humane Letters from Connecticut College.

Rice travelled all over France and elsewhere in Europe when she lived in Paris for two years. After her mother died from a brain tumour, she returned to France and made a pilgrimage to the Camargue. She was bewitched by the green marshes and the magical landscape which inspired her to write her novel Light of the Moon.

She now lives with her second husband between New York, Old Lyme (Connecticut) and Southern California.

After grieving the loss of her mother and a long, unhappy love relationship with her colleague, Ian Stewart, Susannah Connoly, the Connecticut based skilled anthropologist, is encouraged by her mentor, Helen Oakes, to take two weeks holiday in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in the French Camargue. Going to this part of the world would also fulfil the wish of Susannah’s deceased mother who wanted her to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in order to see Saint Sarah’s shrine which was responsible for her birth. Susannah’s mother was yearning to have a child after many years of marriage. Her wish came true after visiting Saint Sarah and praying to her.

The story of Light of the Moon is set in this stunningly beautiful part of the south of France, la Camargue, with its lush marshes, wild white horses and wild black bulls. The author even takes her readers for an underwater dive into a unique prehistoric sea cave at Cap Morgiou (Marseille), which was discovered in 1991 by the French professional diver, Henri Cosquer.

With her painstaking attention to detail, describing the splendid surroundings of this part of France, the author transports her readers there. One can smell the salty marshes, hear the Mistral wind blowing, feel drenched by the heavy rain and under the spell of a charmingly romantic silvery moon. In this novel, nature is an important well portrayed character.

Another interesting theme developed in the novel are the historical traditions and beliefs of the Romany and Gypsy people and their devotion to their mythic patron saint, Sarah (Sara-la-Kali). Every 24th of May they come from everywhere to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer to venerate their patron saint and have a great celebration with school children carrying a banner in the procession, while “the band would play and the equestrian team would ride in formation”.

The chosen setting for the novel is magnificent and the history of Romany and gypsy communities is interesting but unfortunately, the author didn’t expand more on the subject despite the length of the novel. Same for the characters who are not well developed. Regrettably, the romance between Susannah and the handsome Grey Dempsey, the American journalist who became a ranch owner after marrying an attractive gypsy, is mawkish, unoriginal and contrived. Some passages are monotonously repetitive which creates boredom and a sense of déjà-vu.

Alas, despite the ground being fertile, the harvest has failed to deliver.

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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.