Tag-Archive for ◊ western world ◊

Author:
• Sunday, February 02nd, 2014

Elif Shafak was born in 1971 to Turkish parents, a philosopher father and a diplomat mother, in Strasbourg, France. Her parents divorced when she was one year old and she returned to Turkey with her mother, which left an imprint on her life. A single child raised by a single divorcee mother was an unusual situation in a patriarchal environment in Ankara in the early 1970s.

Shafak lived between her traditionalist, irrational, superstitious grandmother in Ankara and her well educated, feminist, westernised, diplomat mother, abroad. She travelled all over the world which made her a multicultural and cosmopolitan person in her life and in her writing, combining eastern and western cultures as well as traditions in her novels.

Shafak writes in Turkish and English and is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has won Turkish literary awards and has received several prestigious international prizes, one of them being the French honorary distinction of Chevalier des arts et des lettres in 2010.

Shafak is also a political Scientist and assistant professor. She obtained a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her Master’s thesis on Islam, Women and Mysticism received an award from the Social Scientists Institute. She has been a teacher at various universities all over the world.

Shafak writes for a number of daily and monthly publications in Turkey and has contributed to several newspapers in Europe and in the USA as well as writing lyrics for Turkish musicians.

She lives with her two young children and Turkish husband who works as editor-in-chief for an Istanbul newspaper. She divides her time between Istanbul – the Turkish city that she is very attached to and which takes a central part in her novels – and London.

Her book, Honour, was written in English and published in 2012.

Adem Toprak is from Istanbul and his Kurdish wife, Pembe, was born and raised in a small, remote, roadless village called Mala çar Bayan located near the river Euphrates. Pembe has always longed to travel and after her marriage she moves to Istanbul, where her two children, Eskender and Esma were born. Her wish is fulfilled when her husband decides to emigrate with the family to 1970s bustling London, before the arrival of their third child Yunus.

Once in London, Adem and Pembe want to believe in love and freedom but deep inside they can’t get rid of, nor leave behind, their entrenched resistance to adapt to a different culture, nor their ingrained perception of betrayal, shame and honour.

Honour is the story of three generations of a Turkish and Kurdish family. Through the various narrators and viewpoints, the author is juxtaposing eastern and western cultures as well as conservative and modern societies.

The story revolves between Turkey and London. It starts with Esma and ends with her. Esma is the second Toprak child, a bright student. She is ambitious, independent, strong headed and destined to a bright future. The irony is that after her studies and her ambitious dreams, she ends up like her mother as a housewife. Esma has now two twin daughters following her marriage to the considerate and caring Palestinian immigrant scientific scholar, Nadir.

Yunus and Nadir become good friends. After sharing some thrills with a group of punk squatters, that he came across by chance in his early teens, Yunus becomes a successful musician with a band.
Throughout the story the author emphasizes the three siblings’ – Eskender, Esma and Yunus – different degrees of adaptation to the western world. Each one of them trying to adapt in his own way and according to the circumstances they are facing.

Feeling uprooted and lost in his new adopted country, Adem, the head of the family, has been brought up by an “at times sober, sweet and kind and at times drunken, evil and violent” father and a submissive mother who disappears out of his life at an early age. Having had this unsettled and insecure upbringing, Adem, once in London becomes an addicted gambler. He spends all his money to satisfy the needs of his Bulgarian lover, Roxana, the dancer. He eventually abandons his wife, Pembe and his three children without any income to survive on.

Adem’s wife Pembe, who is a determined and yet vulnerable character, feels just as displaced and disoriented as her husband. She finds a job in a hair-dressing saloon and finds solace in writing letters to her identical twin sister, Jamila.

Jamila, never marries – because her honour has been besmirched when kidnapped as a young girl through no fault of her own – and is living secluded in a remote place in Turkey. She becomes a midwife and a healer. She has a psychic connection with her identical twin sister and is an important character in the plot’s twist at the end of the story.

With her husband having run away with another woman, leaving her to bring-up their three children, Pembe establishes an innocent, secret relationship with a Greek cook, which will lead to her demise and lead her son Eskender to Shrewsbury prison after committing his irreparable crime by killing her for it. Eskender finds it difficult to embrace two cultures at once. He is a sympathetic character as an adult, when he is tortured by guilt and remorse and feels repentant for committing his heinous crime. Previously he was a confused teenager trying hard to find the right path on his own. He was young, without a father to guide him and with a mother who spoilt him and called him her “sultan”.

Eskender considers his mother’s irreproachable friendship with a man to be a crime and only by killing her can he restore the Toprak family honour, since his father will not undertake this task himself. Pembe has to die like her eldest sister, Hediye, who died, hanged by her family, many years earlier, for having eloped and then been forsaken by a young medical assistant.

In the novel, the author underlines that for some communities the only answer to restoring the family’s honour is death and that this code of honour is carried forward from generation to generation.

Honour has several themes: patriarchal societies, immigration, the search of identity, multiculturalism and honour code as well as honour killing – which today is still alive and well in various tribal communities all over the world. Just as domestic violence against women is also increasingly spreading all over the eastern and western world.

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Author:
• Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Rose Tremain was born Rosemary Jane Thomson in London in 1943. She attended Frances Holland School from 1949 to 1954, then Crofton Grange School from 1954 to 1961. Afterwards she studied at The Sorbonne in Paris for one year, where she took a diploma in the “Cours de Civilisation française”.

She graduated from the University of East Anglia with a B.A. (honours) Degree in English in 1967 and taught Creative writing from 1988 to 1995 in the University of East Anglia.

Rose Tremain has won several awards for her books. She has written several novels, short-story collections and a number of radio and television plays. She was chosen as one of the twenty “Best Young British Novelists” in a promotion by the literary magazine Granta published in 1983. She was a judge for The Booker Prize for Fiction in 1988 and in 2000. She reviews and broadcasts on a regular basis for the press and radio.

The Road Home was short-listed for the 2007 Costa Novel Award and won the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Before writing The Road Home, Rose Tremain undertook extensive reading and researching about post 1989 Eastern European society. She also benefited from interviewing Polish field-workers in Suffolk.

Rose Tremain has been divorced twice and now lives with her companion, Richard Holmes, the biographer, between Norfolk and London. She has one daughter from her first marriage in 1972 who became an actress.

Rose Tremain was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2007.

The setting of The Road Home is contemporary London. The main character is a forty-two-year-old East European called Lev, from an unnamed ex Eastern bloc republic. He is an unemployed, lumberyard worker after his sawmill closed due to lack of wood and a bereaved widower since his young wife Marina died of leukaemia. In desperation he decides to travel for many hours by bus from his rural village, Auror, to reach London in order to find a job which will provide a humble living for his impoverished old mother and his five-year-old daughter who remains back home.

In The Road Home, the author tackles a present reality issue, a good insight into the problem of the Eastern European labourers who migrate to the Western world and the harsh repelling reality they face. They feel unwelcome by the English and have to withstand a great deal of hardship in order to survive and supply means of subsistence to their families.

The author succeeds in humanising, with compassionate understanding, the problem concerning the invasion of Eastern European workers, by portraying a friendly and sincere Lev, who like any human being has his good qualities, his weaknesses and his misdeeds. He is not just a part of an unjust and cold statistic of the unpopular foreign invader-workers we read about. He is described in a sympathetic, likeable way.

He is handsome, he is kind, sincere and feels for others. Lev is homesick; he is certain that he doesn’t belong to this Western society he lives in, but he has to endure his affliction courageously in order to reach the target he has set himself.

The story is engaging, poignant at times, but thanks to Christy, Lev’s drunken Irish, light-hearted landlord and Rudi, Lev’s best friend and compatriot, who stayed back home, the reader can enjoy some comic relief.

An easy to read, emotionally rich and entertaining novel while at the same time thought provoking. Despite the nostalgia and melancholy of some chapters, it’s an optimistic story full of hope.

Through Lev’s eyes, we see the materialistic world that he can’t fully understand and we see all the decadence of the West, depicted in English society : The portrayal of old people left unvisited by their children in old people’s homes, the well-to-do snobs who cheer with approval a play that makes a banality out of incestuous-paedophilia simulation, or the amount of waste in a capitalist country.

Not really an attractive sight. Rose Tremain says in one of her interviews : “It’s the culture we swim in… I do think for an outsider’s eye it does look extremely vulgar and shallow…More now than it ever has.”