Tag-Archive for ◊ uncaring ◊

Author:
• Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marie Ndiaye is a French national, born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France to a French mother and a Senegalese father. Her parents separated when she was one-year-old with her father leaving for Africa and her eldest brother and herself being brought up in the Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine by their teacher mother.

After finishing primary and secondary schools, NDiaye went to the Sorbonne to study linguistics, which led to her obtaining a grant from the French Academy to stay in the Villa Médicis in Rome.

NDiaye started writing in her teens with her first novel, “Quant au riche avenir”, published in 1985 when she was eighteen years old. She is the most widely read and critically acclaimed, living French writer. To date she has written adults’ and children’s novels, short stories, plays, an essay and a screen play. She received the prix Femina in 2001 for “Rosie Carpe” and the distinguished prix Goncourt in 2009 for Three Strong Women. Her stage play: “Papa doit manger”, became part of the repertory of the prestigious, Comédie Française in 2003.

Marie NDiaye left France in 2007 after Nicolas Sarkozy became president and currently lives with her husband and their three children in Berlin.

Three Strong Women was originally published in French in 2009 and in English in 2012.

Three women, three different fates and two countries: France and Senegal. In the three novellas that form this book, three women: Norah, the lawyer, Fanta, the former literature teacher and Khady Demba, the uneducated servant who becomes a childless widow, all fight against the adversity of life with an unparalleled obsessive determination.

The three stories are loosely intertwined. When Norah, in the first story, is urgently called by her estranged, unloving, overbearing, uncaring father, to leave Paris and join him in Senegal to defend her imprisoned brother, Sony, in court, she meets Khady who works in her father’s house as a maid. Norah is in her late thirties, a successful lawyer in Paris and has a seven-year-old daughter, Lucie. Norah has a complicated life. She has been living a frustratingly unhappy year of her life with her unruly, unemployed, German partner, Jakob, and his seven-year-old daughter, Grete.

In the second story, the Senegalese, Fanta, like her husband Rudy, a French literature teacher in the reputable lycée Mermoz in Dakar, has to quit her job for a teaching position in France promised by Rudy. She follows her disgraced French husband to his native province, la Gironde, in the south west of France with their young son Djibril. Once in France and without a job, Fanta becomes unhappy and reclusive. We learn about her through her lonely failure of a husband, Rudy, who feels remorse for inflicting his low self-esteem torment on his wife. He is depressed, paranoid and suffers from chronic haemorrhoids.

The same Khady Demba, the maid in the first story reappears a few years later in the third story as a destitute, childless widow. She is forced by her in-laws to emigrate to France and send them money after receiving help from a distant cousin, Fanta, who is regarded as being rich because she is teaching and therefore earning a good salary.

Khady Demba, like Norah and Fanta, is not easily deterred in the face of adversity. With an imponderable pride and a discreet unshakeable assurance, she keeps telling herself: I am me, Khady Demba. She is young, healthy and unstoppable. She knows she has nothing, really nothing to lose and additionally she has been told by her mother-in-law before leaving, that if things go wrong she is not to return back to live with them.

The author gives an insight into three types of migration between Africa and Europe and in the case of Khady Demba, the big problem of loss of life among the “Boat people” who are putting themselves in danger in the hope of better living conditions in “rich” European countries.

Through her lengthy (paragraph length) sentences and her incomparable style of writing, NDiaye describes in depth and with great accuracy, in her triptych, the suffering, unhappiness, despair and endurance as well as the distress and painful life of three women. The three protagonists don’t share the same background but nevertheless have a determination for survival and enduring hardship in common, in order to reach their target and impose their identity in a patriarchal world.

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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.