Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘Novels Mine’ Category

“The Cello Player of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway

On May 27, 1992 and at 4 pm, a shell killed 22 civilians lined up in front of a bakery in besieged Sarajevo. Over 70 persons were also injured as the shell fell behind Vase Miskina market.

The cello player, Vedran Smailovic, decided to play the Adagio on C minor of Albinoni for 22 days, at the same hour of 4 pm and at the location the shell fell.

Galloway designed his novel to revolve around three fictional characters: Kenan, Dragan and the 30 year-old girl sniper “Arrow” (Fleche or Strijela)

Kenan is married with 3 kids and is living in terror every time he has to go and fetch water. Every 4 days, the family consumes the 6 plastic gallons of potable water brought from the underground fresh water situated in the brewery, 7 miles away.

Kenan has to take great risks crossing streets targeted by shells and snipers from the hills, particularly in crossing the bridges of the river to the other side. Before starting his dangerous trip, Kenan slumbers on the staircase wall in order to capture enough courage and determination to get going: He is very afraid of this war that is harvesting people indiscriminately.

At one of his dangerous trips, several shells were lodged at the brewery as he was filling his bottles. Scores of people were killed and many injured. Kenan realized that he belong to the category of people who neither run away immediately or try to come to rescue of injured people around him.

Kenan just stays around watching the scene of carnage until he recovers his hearing sensation and feel fit to resume his trip back home… On the way, he met his friend Ismet, a soldier who gets paid with cigarettes and barter the cigarettes with goods in the semi-black market: Most of the foodstuff in the market were offered by the humanitarian aids and which ended up being handled by the gangsters and “nouveaux riches”. who drives Mercedes and have water delivered to their homes.

Kenan will keep going to the brewery for water: He is the one with all the other people who resumed their daily routine for survival who will rebuild the city, not the war criminals.

Dragan, 64 of age, managed to whisk away his wife and boy of 18 year-old to migrate to Italy as the war approached. Dragan knows that he would not see again his family: the wives who got away from the besieged city have been mailing divorce papers. He is now living with his sister and brother-in-law since his apartment was demolished by shells.

He recalls when the militia in the city dragged him to dig ditches at the front line as the war started. The diggers were forgotten for 3 days and didn’t have anything to eat. The owner of the bakery managed to locate where Dragan was allocated and got him back to work at the bakery.

It turned out that the gang leader was being paid by the head of recruits. Dragan is now on a dangerous trip to buy bread, many miles away and is not ready to cross a street where a sniper has already killed and injured many civilians who dared to cross to the other side.

Dragan is not a talker and he has been avoiding to meet and open any conversation with people he used to know. The sniper injured one of his close acquaintances Amina and he could not master enough courage to retrieve her to safety.  Amina was to deliver outdated medicines to an elderly person as a swap program among the inhabitants for lack of medication.

On the other side was a foreign cameraman trying to get interesting pictures of people crossing the deadly street. And Dragan got upset: This city would not be worth saving if dead people are not removed from the street for fear of being shot at. Dragan decided to walk the 15 meters separating him from a killed passerby and dragged the body to a safe place, even though the sniper tried twice to hit him.

Dragan will deliver the medicines in the name of his injured friend before passing and retrieving his loaf of bread.

And Dragan witnessed that stray dogs walked with a determined “dogged” mind: They had a destination to arrive at and didn’t stop to sniff the dead bodies. However, dogs knew the dangerous crossing, and would look at the hills before crossing. Maybe the dogs could be used to sense danger ahead of time?

Arrow is an exceptional sniper and she target officers in the hills. She works independently as she is entitled to select her own target.  Her commander assigned her the task of foiling snipers sent to kill the cello player. One of the sniper listened with total reverence to the music, and as he was about to shoot the player after the piece finished, and Arrow killed the sniper.

Things changed in war politics in the city. Her commander was assassinated and the new colonel wanted Arrow to work under his directives. The colonel wants to test Arrow for her readiness to target civilians, on the ground that this war is “between us and them”: There will be no difference between officers, soldiers or civilian.

As Hasan, the one designated to select for Arrow her targets put it: “They killed by father and my younger brother at home. I have no idea what happened to my mother and sister. I wish they are dead instead of slaving for these murderers…”

Arrow refused this deal of having target (civilians too) assigned to her, and resumed her unfinished job of protecting the cello player from any further assassination attempts.

Arrow is supposed to disappear and for 10 days she did just that, until the cello player finished his last “concert”. Arrow is back to her apartment, waiting for the military to barge in and assassinate her with “rashak” of bullets…

Note 1: The siege of Sarajevo (500,000 inhabitant at the time) lasted from April 5, 1992 to Feb. 29, 1996. The Serb forces had occupied all the hills surrounding Sarajevo in a valley. The only link to the outside was a tunnel under the airport.

The airport was monitored by an International force. Obviously, the Serb knew about the tunnel that served their interests: They could trade food with the city at exorbitant prices and received appliances at modicum prices, which families bartered  for foodstuff in order to survive.

The criminal barons  and gangs within the city had already invested the army as professional soldiers and officers and controlling the black market.

The UN estimated that ten thousands were killed and 100,000 injured. Over 10,000 apartment totally demolished and 100,000 seriously damaged, or 25% of the total buildings.

Note 2Vedran Smailovic managed to leave Sarajevo on December 1993 and is currently residing in North Ireland

Note 3: in 1945, an Italian musicology discovered 4 tempo of the bass partition of a burned sonata in the ruins of Dresden. He was convinced the tempo were composed by the 17th century Venice Tomaso Albinoni, and spent 12 years reconstituting how the original could have been composed. It’s a fake Adagio, but very beautiful.

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Do Tag names of fiction characters: They are far more interesting characters than biographical names…

Tell me: Do you think children and adolescent people know any one of current personalities, or historical figures, except may be a few in the music or sport fields?

Who is more famous to children: Alice in the wonderland characters, Scrooge, Charles Dickens characters… or Madona…or any current personality over 50 of age?

Tell me: What characters and names do you think that children and adolescent people search on google or Wikipedia?

Who is more famous: Lolita, Madame Bovary, Gatsby... or current names that are over 50 of age?

I have discovered, after reading biographies and autobiographies that fiction characters in great novels are far more interesting than the way characters are described in biographies.

I decided that:

I should  go over my category of “Book Review” and tag the names of the fiction characters, particularly names that I might have developed to some extent.

It is clear to me that describing the plot of a novel is of no importance: It is up to the reader to discover the main story and the many more interesting side stories.

In any case, all stories are virtually repeat stories of what we read everyday in dailies and magazines.

It is clear to me that developed characters in novels can be found in thousands of people around us, if we had cared to observe and listen to.

It is clear to me that characters in novels are accompanied with detailed description of the surrounding environment, the ethical and moral standards expected in a community, sufficient background knowledge to make sense to the novel…

Reviewing a book or a novel means to develop in details a few characters that “shocked” the reader as highly controversial, and how the complex attributes and behaviors of a character relate to current idiosyncracies in particular communities.

Fiction characters are, one way or another, characters from the author’s environment, how he comprehended them and observed them, and the characters evolve and extend deeper meaning of our own behaviors…

We feel that we can generalize to the community from the few characters who lived and breathed within specific periods and societies.

There are billion of people who have read translated novels and can associate with these fictional characters, and they have no idea who are the historical or current figures around the world.

It is the novels that give sense to the meaning that “the world can be reduced to a small village, anywhere on earth...”

You read any fiction novel of the great authors and your horizon will widen, your heart will pound faster, your dreams are made real…

Take better care in reviewing novels, and take time to develop on the characters that meant something to you, and never forget to tag their names!

I’m lost: 8 characters described and presented in the first chapter…

The most interesting purpose in great novels is the complex description of the interactions among characters.

If even only 4 of the main characters are presented and thoroughly described in the first chapter, I am lost if they are not mentioned and refreshed in the successive chapters.

Just think of the number of interactions among only 4 characters: 6 interactions between 2 characters, 4 among three characters and one among all four characters…

Human brain is not able to keep all these interactions alive and refreshed at any moment: You need to keep written notes and refer to them every time a new interaction is happening… And this not fun and defeats the purpose of enjoying a fiction novel.

Unless a third of the interactions are “refreshed” in every single chapter, it is very difficult to keep track of the story and assimilate what the author is putting forth as controversial ideas, or tacit conspiratorial attitudes

Unless the novel is read in one setting…

Unless each chapter grabs you from the first sentence…

What if 8 characters are set forward in the first chapter? What can you do?

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi is not a novel.  It is a diary and memories of a period in this Islamic Republic of Iran.

Azar decided to set up weekly sessions for 8 of her former students in literature and discuss and keep diaries of the novels they read… The purpose was for the girls in this restrictive and theocratic regime to be affected by the independent minds of characters, particularly the female gender, their outlook to life, how it gelled perception about themselves, independently of external realities of the living…

I discovered the girls in the following chapters, as if their description in first chapter were redundant, since I forgot most of the description…

What saves this highly interesting book:

1. Chapters are self-contained

2. My good background knowledge and interest in Iran makes this book highly important

3. I read with Azar many novels that I didn’t read before, and enjoyed the in-depth characerizations of the heros and heroines

4. Azar studied in the same university in the USA: The univ. of Oklahoma at Norman…

5. I got to be acquainted with literature departments…

Now, you say that my rational premise of 4 main characters are one too many is just a hypothesis. It may be so. For the case of my simple mind, this is a fact.

In any case, I suggest to set up series of experiment to research my hypothesis.

The objectives are:

1. to discover the optimal number of main characters for the retention and emotional effects on a reader.

2. what is the better structure of the novel in order to maximize the personal effect of each character in the fiction story.

Experiment One:

For Group 1,

1. Select three characters and physically describe them accurately before writing a short story for each character.

2. Administer a questionnaire for comprehension and recollection of the characteristics of the person (physically and psychologically)

For Group 2,

1. Tell the stories of three characters first, and end the story with a thorough detailed description of the characters that were not included in the initial story version

2. Administer a questionnaire for comprehension and recollection of the characteristics of the person (physically and psychologically)

Experiment Two:

A month later, administer the same questionnaire to the two groups of people and analyze how well the characters were retained and recollected.

Experiment Three:

Repeat this experiment with 5 characters and then 7 characters

Experiment Four:

Repeat all these experiment using only pictures of the characters, no word physical description.

The experiments are simple. However, the quality of the stories and how the questionnaire is designed and well articulated, and what kinds of “data” are measured and captured… are the main difficulties that need to be ironed out and a lot of time invested in…

These experiments can be altered to extract the kinds of author’ styles that infuse the best impact.

For example, the stories of each character can be taken from different novels of the same author. The results will compare authors styles and additional pieces of information.

Obviously, the subjects in the experiments must be familiar with the connotations and exact meaning of each described attribute

Note: You may read one of my 11 reviews of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” http://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/reading-lolita-in-tehran-by-azar-nafisi-part-1/

Historical background: “Rainbow over the Levant”

Note: I decided to split the background chapter of my novel “Rainbow over the Levant” in two parts.

This novel has been published 5 years ago on my blog in serial chapters.

A quick summary of the history of this region, the Levant or Near East (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Turkey), starting two centuries preceding the fiction events of this novel, can shed a satisfactory understanding for the setting of this historical fiction around the last quarter of the 14thcentury AD.

The Mameluks’ Sultan Baybars of Egypt had dislodged the Christian Crusaders from every remaining city in the Near East in 1291. The chased out Crusaders forces were just holding on to the island of Cyprus.

The Caliphates of the Arab empire, who were virtual rulers in Baghdad since the 9th century, were restored to their virtual religious polarization in Cairo under the Mameluks’ hegemony.

The Crusaders from Christian Europe had been defeated previously in 1187 in a critical battle of Hittine in Palestine by Saladin who managed that feat after reigning as Sultan in both capitals of Cairo and Damascus.

To better comprehend the Levant history we need to stress on the facts that the entire region that composes the present States of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and even Iraq (from the 12th century onward) has been throughout its long history under the direct or indirect domination of empires in Iran, Turkey or Egypt.

The local Emirs or appointed governors paid tributes to one of these powerful centers in return to governing their internal affairs, participating in military campaigns and defending the political dominions and interests of the regional Great Sultans.  The reigning Sultan of Egypt had the upper hand in this period of the novel in the Near East region.

In the 10th century, two dynasties ruled part of the Middle East. In Egypt, the Shiite Moslem Fatimid dynasty, coming from Northern Africa established their Caliphate in Cairo and stretched its influence to Aleppo in Syria. Their successor, the Ayyubid Sunni Moslem dynasty, from Kurdish descent, displaced the Fatimid.

The Mamluks (the serfs who came to hold high political and military powers in the Ayyubid dynasty) rose to power and defeated the Mogul invasion in two crucial battles in Palestine in 1260 at Elbistan.

In Iran, the Seljuk dynasty stretched their empire to Samarqand, Bukhara, Khorassan, Afghanistan, part of Turkey, Syria and part of Lebanon. They fought the Crusaders in the Near East during most of their reign through the intermediary of their appointed “Atabeks” in Turkey and Syria.

The Seljuk dynasty was taken over by the Khowarasmi dynasty whose Sultans were at odd with the Caliphate of Baghdad and helped the hordes of Genghis Khan the Mogul, led by his son Holako, to enter and devastate Baghdad in 1258 which ended the Arabic Empire.

The Moguls established two Viceroys in Iraq, one at Mosul in the Northern part and the second in Baghdad for the Southern part of Iraq.  The Arabic Era that lasted for 5 centuries ended as a cultural and organizational influence. The Emirs in Palestine were generally affiliated to the Sultan of Egypt.  .

The societies in the Levant region have experienced a different level of organizational skills and the beginning of the application of the rudiment written rules of Laws from their interaction with the European Crusaders.  We don’t have much information about the status of Mount Lebanon in that period or about its Emirs, its social structure, its allegiances, its demographic constituency or its economic development.

We assume that the Crusaders left a strong impact on the inhabitants in Mount Lebanon which forced the Arab Emirs to start relocating many Arab tribes from Southern Iraq into the Mount Lebanon regions to counterbalance the Christian population.

Even before the advent of the Arabic Empire, Christian monasteries were numerous and spread out throughout the Near East and Iraq and occupied the top of mountains, hills, and the best areas near fresh water sources in the same fashion you notice them currently in Mount Lebanon.

The monks had their special chambers (kelayye) for retreats and prayers.  Monasteries were very prosperous and maintained exquisite gardens of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables and were well stocked in provisions from their land and donations of the faithful.

During the Arabic Empire, monasteries were required to set up annexes of hostels in order to receive weary travelers and to lodge and feed them.  Usually, the relatives of monks maintained these hostels.  Caliphs, Emirs, and well to do noblemen used to patronize the monasteries and spent days in these quiet domains to eat, drink local wine and beer and have great time away from the scrutiny of city dwellers.

The monasteries in the Levant suffered during the Crusaders’ period because of the bad manners of the European invaders, their robbery and plunder, but the monasteries in Iraq and Eastern Turkey were as prosperous as ever because the crusaders did not venture deep in the land of Arabic Empire.

Many castles were demolished during that bloody period, a few were partially rehabilitated, but a lot of reconstruction of war infrastructure was needed.  What is important to note is that wars were no longer waged using chars with spiked wheels that harvest feet or employed exotic animals such as elephants as during the Antiquity.

Canons of wars were not invented yet, except may be in remote China where they were used during the main ceremonies related to their standing emperors. Wars were still waged with infantry, cavalry and archers in the conventional ways. Newly designed catapults for throwing rocks at castles’ walls and entrances were in use by rich nations with well equipped and sophisticated armies.

The full metal armor used by the crusaders was reduced by the noblemen to a vest of meshed chains and a metal helmet: The climate may not have been suitable to European fashion, since we do enjoy at least 7 months of hot and dry seasons.

“The summer of a life” by J.M. Coetzee

This book is another autobiographical attempt by J.M. Coetzee of how was life and his life between 1972 to 1975 in apartheid South Africa of the Afrikaners. Actually, it is how his girlfriends perceived him, through a third-party interviewing his girlfriends after his death.

Consequently, the exciting main characters are the women in the life of the author, and when women talk frankly about their relationship you should expect excitement and hilarious different perspectives on the nature of falling in love and sexual intercourse…

I am translating from the French version a few paragraphs and sections to set the tone.

Julia says: “I had dropped two rolls of Christmas wrappings in the supermarket.  This utterly non-handsome guy, skinny, and inelegant picked up the one-meter large rolls. It was obviously an accident, but one of the rolls stabbed one of my breasts. As I arrived home, I removed my bra and looked at my breasts.  I could feel the touch on my nipple for a week…

I invited John for a light dinner a few weeks later. I made it a principle to look the same as during the supermarket incident and refused to beautify my face, do my hair, or wear fancy clothes. The dinner was super light, and John arrived without his father. My little 2 year-old Chrissie was on my lap and she didn’t like John, and never did. My Chrissie was as blond as her father with his blue eyes. I had the sensation that I was to her an intruder, more like our colored house helper, though my husband Mark barely was home to taking care of her…”

“The Afrikaner father of John spoke English passably: He used to underline with a finger gesture the English idioms he told me..”  The father said: “John is pouring concrete around the perimeter of this humid house. We are witnessing less humidity inside.  This is a huge undertaking, isn’t John?”  From the tone of the dad’s voice I felt how he was trying hard to find any kind of merit in his 30 year-old eldest son…

“This week-end, my husband Mark made love to me with ardour, all the time and almost everywhere. Mark had this idea that I sensed on him the odor of his girlfriend in Durban and that I was out doing my erotic performances because of my acute woman smell…Mark had no idea that I cheated with John a couple of days ago, just for revenge. I felt a huge pride and excitement in thinking: “Wow, I am behaving like a slut, and I am discovering new horizons in my erotic abilities…”

“I spent seven consecutive nights with John as my husband Mark left to Hong Kong with his girlfriend. John would leave early in order not to meet with the house servant. My diagnostic of John’s love-making is that he was autistic in that matter.  An autistic regard the person he is in love with as an automaton, an entity created to his own desires. To John I was a Woman. Like the time he came extremely excited and asked me to make love on the adagio of Franz Schubert, on the ground that only music expresses the eroticism of the period. Like if I could care less how Mrs. Schubert felt with Mr. Schubert in Vienna of the 19th century…

I think sexual autistics prefer to masturbate instead of having real rapport with a human being…”

“The Afrikaners of the period (1970-1975) liked to be viewed as the “Afrikan” Israelite, cunning, unscrupulous, hard as leather, and attacking their prey overtly…In fact, the apartheid male Afrikaners were more like a pack of babies abandoned in a forest, a tribe of little kids with slaves to care for them…

“John could never be my charming Prince. Only once did John opened up his heart to me at the sight of my predicament of not knowing where my Chrissie was.  This is the only night I reached climax with John. He must have awakened at night and saw my beatific face and got scared.  I didn’t see him when I awoke. Do you think that I will ever forgive John for abandoning me after that night?…(To be continued)

Note 1: J.M. Coetzee received Nobel Award of literature in 2003, mostly based on his two autobiographical books “At the age of a man”, and “Scenes of the life of a young man”

Note 2: I liked the sexual autism part. I recall slapping the behind of a girlfriend once.  She was bewildered and demanded: “Why did you do that?” I replied: “I read in books that women like to have their behind slapped occasionally. This piece of intelligence is obviously not quite correct…” Enough of my dark humour for today.

Most ancient mythical story in 550 pages:  Who is Gilgamesh of Iraq?

German author, Thomas Milkeh, published the mythical story of “Gilgamesh, King of Uruk” in 550 pages, and 35 chapters, and a chronological list of names and historical events.  Nabil al Haffar translated the book into Arabic and was published by Cadmus.

Previous German archeologists and authors, Albert Shut and Wilhelm Soden, and Helmut Shmokel had published versions of the Gilgamesh story, a mythical grandiose account of the ancient Iraqi kingdoms of Sumer and Akkad…seven thousand years ago.

The gardener Chokalitoda of the town of Kish adopted the infant Gilgamesh. “The black bird of the storm, Amdod, deposited the infant, wrapped in cloth and in a reed basket, amid the trees”. Gilgamesh grew up to become a captain in the army of King Mbaraghezy of the city of Kish.

Gilgamesh occupied the rival city of Uruk and met with his mother Nin Son.  He forced-labored the inhabitants of Uruk to build a new defensive wall around the city and proclaimed himself King of Uruk.  Gilgamesh befriended the other hero Ankido.

While occupying the city of Uruk in the name of King Mbaraghezy, Gilgamesh was appalled by the savagery of soldiers and confronted them.  The leader of a group of soldiers, engaged in the massacre of unarmed people, said: “We are doing the mutilation for fun”.  In dawned on Gilgamesh that these soldiers were the mercenaries who were supposed to be defending Uruk:  They sided with the victor and were demonstrating loyalty to the new king by committing atrocities and more looting.

Gilgamesh is having this conversation with Paranam Tarra, the virgin girl serving the temple:

Gilgamesh: “What is the origin of Gods?”

Paranam Tarra: “Maybe from these Stars, to where they returned”

Gilgamesh: “What is the origin of the Sumer people?”

Paranam Tarra: “They came from the land of Milokha.  Over those eastern mountain chains”  This is an indication that there existed higher level civilizations outside the borders of Kish and Uruk, in Persia, Afghanistan, and India…

Gilgamesh: “Where is our destination when we die?”

Paranam Tarra: “The good people end up on the “Island of the Eternals” to serve the Man that the Gods extended eternity to Him.”

This is another dialogue between Gilgamesh and his close friend Ankido.  Gilgamesh ordered the construction of a new high fortification wall and Ankido have been observing the miseries endured by the citizens, resulting from the building process.  A titanic fight ensued between the two previous friends and this conversation:

Ankido: “Why this new wall?”

Gilgamesh: “Before engaging in a new war, I have to be capable of defending what I have.  Didn’t you realize that our walls are deteriorating and crumbling?  Don’t you realize that the Kings of Nipur, Laghash, and Shorobak are readying to plunder our wealth? Maybe my leaven is not ripe yet, but it is better to get a head start”

Ankido: “So far, you have been exercising your might on the weak”

Gigamesh: “You are wrong. I am preparing to defend my city against new waves of plunder, massacre, and looting from outside wrath.”

Ankido: “How could you claim to be defending the city from outside enemies when you are in the process of destroying it from the inside?”

Gilgamesh managed to overcome and kill Ankido and decided to travel to the Island of the Eternal to mourn his friend.  Gilgamesh had to overcome a series of obstacles in this arduous trip and is having a beer in a bar.  He is having this conversation with the girl attendant:

The bar attendant: “What is your destination?”

Gilgamesh: “I am heading to the Island of the Eternals”

The girl: “The Gods transferred feelings and emotions to mankind because they were unable to experience emotions.  The Eternals do not need emotions: They cannot suffer and they can live forever without this fear of dying. Mankind has to die because he can feel and suffer. ”

Gilgamesh was seeking a secluded island to learn detachment from people exigencies and unlimited wants and wishes.  He wanted to engage in introspection and get a handle on life and the universe.  He wanted to leave a few wisdom to posterity, in a calm and serene environment.

Isn’t what Homer undertook 4,000 years later?  Isn’t what a few Jews of Alexandria, 200 years BC, did by writing the Bible or the Old Testament?  A few learned Jews decided to re-write the history of a wretched community who was easing out of nomadic life into the learning stage.

All these mythical stories emulated one another:  Social behaviors are common in most communities; there is nothing new to add, except writing the stories in particular contexts of customs and traditions.  The sacred part of all these mythical accounts are the common denominator of mankind agitation as communities. What is most important in all these account are the frank and honest description of local customs, traditions, and social behaviors.

Note 1: A review of that book was done by Abd al Mahmoud in the Lebanese daily Al Nahar. It could be a most interesting read this summer.

Note 2:  It is very possible that this “Island of the Eternals” was the Island of Bahrain, a must stop destination for merchant ships to and from India and Iraq, and where “noble” princes from the neighboring kingdoms had vacation palaces.

Note 3: Empires vanish as demographics decreases steadily due to loss of hope for better future.  Consequently, empires hire cheap mercenaries for keeping control and the kingdom begins a non-reversible decline.  The Kingdom of Uruk was doomed because it hired mercenaries to defend its authority.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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