Tag-Archive for ◊ the new york times ◊

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:
• Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Eva Hoffman (née Ewa Wydra) was born of Jewish parents in Cracow, Poland in 1945. Despite being musically gifted she had to abandon her piano classes at the age of thirteen, to emigrate to Vancouver, Canada with her parents and younger sister.

After graduating from high school, she travelled to the USA upon receiving a scholarship for studying English literature at Rice University, Texas where she obtained her M.A., followed by Yale School of Music from 1967 to 1968. In 1974 she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University.

She studied psychoanalysis and commenced a training analysis course in London, England but had to give it up as it was too ambitious for her.

Eva Hoffman has been a professor of literature and creative writing at various universities and colleges. She worked from 1979 to 1990 as an editor and writer for The New York Times and has received several awards and prizes for her work.

She married Barry Hoffman in 1971, divorced in 1976 and moved to England in 1993 where she now lives in Hampstead in north London.

Eva Hoffman is the writer of Lost in Translation published in 1989, Exit into History in 1993, Shtetl in 1997, The Secret in 2001, After Such Knowledge in 2004, Illuminations in 2008 and Time in 2009.

Isabel Merton, the novel’s protagonist is a New Yorker. She is a famous, gifted pianist who often goes on concert tours all over Europe. She is overpowered by her passion for classical music to the extent of separating from her loving husband, Peter, in order to dedicate her life to this fine art. She is hoping to reach the nirvana through this highly pure form of pianistic sounds.

While travelling across Europe for her concerts, Isabel’s path crosses in several cities with the charismatically handsome, Anzor Islikhanov, a cultured Chechen activist, an itinerant like her. They both have a passionate character in common but different commitment targets. The inevitable happens – they fall in love.

The passing passion between Isabel and Anzor is doomed to fail despite the love and attention they need due to the lack of parental affection and care from which they both suffered. Anzor’s dog is killed by his cruel, apathetic father, for a futile reason and Isabel’s divorced mother abandons her and her younger brother, Kolya. Kolya ends-up dying of a drug overdose, even though Isabel was always trying to comfort him and substitute the uncaring, absent mother.

Isabel’s entire life is driven by her devotion to her art, it’s her “raison d’être”.“She summons the poetry of Chopin’s last Ballade, so shot through with anger and anguish, as if it could heal death and all sorrow… As if, after they’ve been broken and injured, things could be made whole”. We learn from her former German teacher’s diary, Ernst Wolfe, that she had a promising future as a pianist. This diary she carries with her and reads during her travels.

As for Anzor, his life is dedicated to his homeland. His patriotism has turned into rage, hatred and revenge against the Russians. For him fighting is the only solution to gaining back the country’s sovereignty, his honour and self-respect. He says to Isabel: “We’re fighting for our survival. Our freedom… Freedom as that artist would never understand it… I cannot breathe free when my country does not breathe free”. After listening to Anzor, Isabel “wants to flee to her practice room; to her music, in which violence and rage are already transmuted into beauty…As if violence held no dominion over beauty”. Because she has no other means “with which to answer the guerilla, or the terrorist. Or herself”.

Illuminations is well written and has interesting themes, like the beauty of classical music in contrast with the ugly violence, in addition to romanticism and psychoanalysis. The musical metaphors involving Chopin, Schumann or Schubert are very well described showing the author’s knowledge and natural affinity for music. As Isabel says to her interviewer, Mariella, about classical music: “This beautiful vocabulary of the soul… where else do we find it? …music doesn’t refer to anything. Except itself. So it doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t explain anything and it is…Illuminations”.

The drawback of this novel is its repetitiveness which induces monotony, maybe intended by the author? Because, whether it’s London, Paris, Prague, Sofia or Vienna, it’s always the same airports, the same hotels, the same concert halls, the same apprehensive feeling before every concert and the aftermath, emptiness and forlornness. Also the recurrent conversations between the two protagonists are always the persistently bitter Anzor talking about the injustice his people are enduring while the world is turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to their problem. As for Isabel, she always listens to his conversation with complete bewilderment as she is trying to comprehend his logic.

A novel for classical music lovers about the role and power of music in a world driven by materialism and violence and the contrast between the two values and their relevance in today’s life. It’s written by a musically trained author who preferred to pursue a career in writing rather than follow her pianistic talent.