Tag-Archive for ◊ sufferings ◊

• 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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• Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Victoria Hislop was born in Bromley Kent in England in 1959 but grew up some miles away, in Tonbridge. She read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, then worked first in book publishing, followed by advertising and public relations. After becoming a mother in 1990, she became a free-lance journalist, writing for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and High Life, before becoming an author. She currently lives in Sissinghurst, Kent, with her husband and two children.

Victoria Hislop has written two novels to date :
The Island published in April 2006 became a best seller in the UK, has won some awards and was translated into a dozen languages.
The Return published in April 2009

Victoria Hislop said that what inspires her most for writing her novels is visiting foreign cities and imagining her story in unfamiliar surroundings.

The Island is a four generation family saga set mainly in the seaside small fishing village of Plaka in Crete and Spinalonga, the small leper colony and tiny island facing it, going back to the nineteen thirties.

The novel begins in London with Alexis Fielding, a half English, half Greek, young lady who decides to travel to Greece and asks her mother, Sofia, if she can visit Plaka, her mother’s homeland, while visiting Greece.

Alexis would like to unveil a hidden family secret that she suspects that her mother has buried all these years from the family. After having her mother’s approval,combined with a letter her mother wrote to her old friend Fotini, Alexis goes on her “secret hunting expedition” in order to unearth the mysterious and devastating past of the Petrakis, her mother’s family, which Fotini unravels in a flash-back throughout the novel. Taking a few days which will seem like an eternity for Alexis.

The reader is taken back to the nineteen thirties, to learn about the suffering of the isolated lepers on Spinalonga, the small Greek island opposite Plaka. The story deals with grief, despair and deceit, but also, love, hope, loyalty, courage and redemption.

A well documented, engaging and richly imagined plot depicting the dignity and the delicate essence of human sufferings through prejudices and betrayals, despite the one dimensional description of the characters: the always good obedient Maria, the ambitious and persistently bad Anna, the ideal wife and teacher Eleni, not forgetting the bland Dr Kyritsis. None of the characters evolve during the whole tale.

An interesting story and a good read despite the rushed ending.