Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘Novels Mine’ Category

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.

Discussions among insurgents: Rainbow over the Levant

Note: This is a section of a historical fiction novel (1371-75)

A tiny educated nucleus wanted to emulate the Greek form of democracy where the people elect their leaders for the executive and for the members of the legislative House, though they had not the slightest idea of how to proceed and implement these Utopian tendencies.  Gergis alone was deeply involved in writing down a rudimentary form of a Constitution.  The guidelines represented a set of laws that should govern the citizens, but he failed to communicate his endeavor because his work was in the tentative stages and he lacked the necessary information of the Roman codes of law and how they governed their vast multiracial Empire. Besides, Gergis he knew of no one to translate Latin manuscript for him.  In any event, he was not sure any member was educated enough to contribute in his research and rationally discuss his thoughts.

The sources of these confusions on an important matter as “how to be governed” was not solely attributable to a widespread illiteracy and ignorance on how they were actually governed, but also because leader Antoun did not yet expand his purposes beyond the Metn County.

Since most of the partisans were Christians, and the big majority from the Christian Orthodox denomination, the arguments of the partisans were superficial and lacked inclusion of other religious sects and races in their planning and discussions.  There were however many Moslem Sunni renegades in the mountains that fled from sentences of imprisonment, or were tracked down for fraudulent mandates against them. They constituted communities of their own and cooperated with the Christian outlaws in moments of danger.  On the other side, many Christian renegades lived in the coastal cities of majority Moslem communities but did not mingle as openly as city life offered in variety of opinions and customs.

It was obvious to any sensible partisan that Antoun was and wanted to remain the leader for as long as he could hold on without the need for a formal election and he was willing to accept any political system that would ensure his prime authority.  So the implicit attitude was to wait until the insurrection succeeded.

Thus any discussion was basically cut short on the political system to agree on.  Nevertheless, Antoun had a pretty good idea on the taxation reforms that needed to be implemented and the inkling to allowing the townships to elect their own leaders and council members in order to check any resurgence of the old influential landlords.

Separately, Mariam of the mountain outlaws gang and Noura in the city group were outspoken and relentlessly brought forth the consequences for fomenting a call to an insurgency.  They realized that the major burden in any calamity would ultimately rest on the females’ shoulders and that they would have to cater for the children, elderly people and the wounded. They insisted that if a definite action had to be decided then they had the right to discuss openly and at length the requisite changes that need to be enacted and the alternative duties and responsibilities of each committee.

The fact is both Mariam and Noura made Antoun realize that not much explicit serious discussion had been exchanged within the partisans because, mainly, the males were not that talkative and refrained from bringing topics that would be interpreted as cowardice or ignorance on their part.  Antoun knew that the Emir had infiltrated the outlaws but decided that, by taking judicious precautions, open dialogues among his partisans were necessary to generating the kind of feedback for clarifying the main objectives and problems facing the unity and steadfastness of the insurgents.

Mariam, Noura and Antoun discussed and devised a rudimentary conversational method to encourage open dialogue among the partisans and would interchange roles when necessary for prompting the partisans into speaking their minds as equals in the decision process.

In the practice of open dialogue Antoun learned a different kind of patience, basically how to listen carefully to opinions and refrain from interposing or delivering his own opinion before all information was proposed, classified and summarized. A series of questions were laid out to be asked and responses expounded upon. Antoun noted down a set of questions that he recapitulated on the many gatherings he had with his partisans such as: “What it is that we want?”, “What is it that we wish to do?”, “What is the most important objective for us all?”, “What is the final big thing we all are decided to fight and die for?”, “What is to be done if we agreed on that objective?”, “How are we to proceed if we win power?”, “What is the most important decision we must implement immediately after we take control?”, “Who is planning to resume his normal life after victory”?, “Who is willing to continue his services as a civil servant?”, “What committee are you willing and capable of serving in?”, “Who is ready to continue the fight and suffer additional hardships in the event things turned badly?”, “What comes first, family security or the achievement of the main objective?”, “Who is willing to learn reading and writing if teaching is provided?”.

Being essentially a business man who got dragged into politics, Antoun enjoyed discussing with his down to earth partisans, whom proved to be very meticulous to details when prompted to expand on their opinions; however, as the night dragged on a few partisans in the gathering, and in the spirit of companionship, would become sentimental and would divulge profound personal secrets that would throw Antoun into confusion.

One of the partisans declared in a passionate tirade: “I am ready to spell by blood for the movement because you are all my friends, but in case I die during the insurgency then I do not see who will benefit from my sacrifice since I have no relatives left in this world”  Instead of replying with abstract notions or rebuking a well founded and deeply rooted life needs for continuity, Antoun would get busy finding a wife for his distraught partisan and engaging the community into resolving this unhappiness.  The empathy routines were left to his more talented female companions.

The arguments that rattled Antoun into despair and sudden frenzy, and which were numerous at the start of initiating the gathering sessions, were related to religious affiliations.  Many partisans with limited knowledge felt the urge to show off and could not find any argument in their arsenal but to express the acquired discrimination attitudes toward the Moslems or other Christian denominations and made it a point of honor to display their ignorance and their isolation.

A few partisans went as far as accusing Antoun to cohabitating with the Jews and Moslem infidels and, not just trading on a grand scale but socializing, eating and drinking with them.  They blamed him to bringing a few of the Moslems to the mountains as associates to him and rub it in their noses by inviting them to the meetings. These sessions that dwelt on the sectarian issues were the most trying and delicate to contain and Antoun proved his leadership at these crucial moments, albeit not in a constructive manner.

The leader was habitually respectful with the clergies, especially those close to the people, but had comprehended that religion could be used as a lethal weapon in politics and, more often, to disrupt the fabric of harmony in society for local petty interests.  Antoun had taken stock of the discredit that the movement would suffer if he played in the hands of the extreme confessionals and decided to respond clearly and categorically to any deviation from unity of all the partisans regardless of sect, or religion, or place of birth.

In the beginning the partisans tried hard to deviate from the problems at hand by steering the discussion to the familiar ground of base discriminating aspects in this confined society but Antoun learned to be firm in directing the discussion and keeping it on the target.  He encouraged confronting the discrimination tendencies and steered the discussion toward fruitful dialogues and thus winning the mind of the vast majority of moderates. Soon the word spread that the quickest way to be cast away from the movement is to indulge in unsubstantiated recriminations based on religious discrimination; consequently, blunt references were transformed into innuendoes or wrapped in benign joking bouts that finally did more harm to the cohesion of the movement than opting for direct confrontation and patient enlightenment.

With the exception of confessional opinions, the trio of Mariam, Noura, and Antoun learned never to preempt any position or offer an opinion until everyone had answered the question, extracted clarifications and then offered a summary of the exposed opinions. The kind of answers that the trio would respond to in order to ward off taking definite positions was as follow: “It is not for me to say what should be your position”, or “It is for all of us to agree at the end”, or “We will do what we agreed upon”, or “We need much honesty among ourselves and we will eventually trust to respect each others opinions”, or “We need much information on our enemy”, or “Whoever can provide us with reliable sources it is his duty to strengthen our knowledge”, or “We need much thought; sharing knowledge, information and intelligence will enhance our confidence in victory”, or “I am one of you who also lack much knowledge and information and would not impose any position before you share with me facts and vision”, or “Until everyone feels secure to share with everyone else his difficulties, limitations and capabilities it would be an untenable situation for our struggle which will be plagued with inefficiency and shortcomings”.

Before starting on his trip to the mountains, Antoun would send a messenger to inform Mariam of the time and place of his visit and then would huddle with her for hours in secret, and occasionally with Mustafa when he accompanied him, rehashing the topics and the role playing mechanism before the general gathering with the outlawed gangs.

Mariam insisted on Elias joining her in the general meetings because she felt that his outspoken character would enrich the conversation with hard topics that should be dealt with ultimately. After three months of frequent meetings, which used on occasions to take the best part of the nights, a short list of positions and desires were condensed.  The renegades of the mountains expressed the following inkling:

The mountain renegades preferred a peaceful and secure life in their own towns.

They demanded compensation be paid for their participation after victory so that they could rehabilitate their shattered business and way of life.

They abhorred any kind of taxes but would eventually share in the expenses of running a government if fair taxes were levied on all citizens and if the city civil officers did not enjoy social or economic privileges.

They adamantly refused forced military recruiting and only voluntary participation with fair wages could be contemplated.

They expressed their staunch right to elect their village chief as well as the enforcers of the laws.

Donations in money or lands to monasteries or to the bishops should be taxed heavily and after the agreement of the community.

Profits generated from pro bono works by the peasants to monasteries and bishops should be taxed and the proceeds invested in schools or anything beneficial to the communities.

The coastal city group expressed different priorities in a mercantile spirit but with the same candor, reflecting a variation in their way of life such as:

The right of every city dweller to own properties in any section of town without any class or religious discrimination but price affordability.

Everyone could rent a shop in any ‘souk’ regardless of religious beliefs or artisanal profession.

Any religious denomination should have the right to erect its own center of worship.

Fair taxes should be levied on every profitable business with no exception.

Trade union should be allowed to organize and send petitions for legal demands.

Entrance fees to other coastal towns and cities should be eliminated.

Goods and services should be exchanged freely among towns and cities within the same county and export taxes eliminated to encourage trade and commerce.

The essential advantage of these meetings was that everyone believed that later important decisions would be discussed openly and freely.  This feeling that everyone’s ideas and opinions were important was a new discovery and trends of empowerment were enhanced within the insurgents.

Initially, the coastal city group and the outlaws’ partisans in the mountains were totally separated in the organization and had no communication with each other except through Antoun and one of his close fearless associates called Mustafa Baltaji in the contraband business.  Mustafa, a 26 year old Sunni Moslem, was a de facto right hand man of Antoun and was an eloquent and conversant negotiator. Mustafa infiltrated many garrisons and linked excellent communications with greedy officers and sergeants who enjoyed unavailable goods at reasonable prices.

The armed group of outlaws and deserters were supplied by contraband military hardware and organized formally into specialized units and indoctrinated to an upcoming uprising with promises of substantial loot and occasional revenge.  Coordination and cohesion among the various gangs were established and trained through small and many tactical attacks that generated loot and high morale among the infant army.

Rainbow over the Levant, Chapter 10
Part 3. An army from the people and for the people

The other part of the plan to eliminate or reduce the masses of unfounded myths among religious sects was the use of the army as an educational forum to allow the population to mingle and befriend with one another.  In these times, there were no centrally organized armies.

In war-time, the warlords and prince of the provinces joined the army with their quota of men, arms and supplies. Since all drafting policies had proven to fail miserably, the government of the First Emir started instituting voluntary contracts for two years. The terms of the contract were to pay directly the family  two-thirds of the soldier’s wages, and a guarantee to train the soldier in technical skills for some job and teach him reading and writing in his mother language. Strict adherence to the contract by the army encouraged many families to enlist many of their boys in the army.

There was one hitch to that plan:  Many well to do families and religious sects with specific doctrines, which prohibited armed confrontations, refrained to participate in this national army.  After five years of the voluntary enlistment policy, a systematic national draft program was instituted with minor revolts or resentment.

A voluntary contract for enlistment of girls and women was promoted with good success, since many single women and widows had no viable alternatives for livelihood.  The regiments for women, after their basic army training, had specific and very specialized tasks in the war efforts:  mainly for espionage assignments in and outside the kingdom, administering the supply, tending to the military camp hospitals and the rehabilitation of the injured.

Noura’s Exile

By this time, Noura was three months pregnant from Antoun out-of-wedlock and the political maneuvering to displace Noura from the center of power increased.  The main argument of the detractors was that the First Emir should now seek a politically beneficial marriage to a powerful Emir that would offer higher recognition to the new kingdom and stronger legitimacy.

At first, the First Emir barely paid any attention to these innuendos, but with converging circumstances and regained zest to holding on to power the repeated suggestions for remarrying reached a critical appeal to the First Emir.

Gergis agreed to handle this diplomatic mission on condition that the First Emir, his longtime friend, would acknowledge publicly Noura’s child as his own. A diplomatic search for a wife was in full activity and trying to circumventing Noura’s intelligence sources as much as possible.  Eventually, no secret could be kept for long in this intricate and small community.

Noura loved Antoun since she knew him in his youth in Beirut but discovered that this love was not returned in the same strength and dedication. She was a fighter and would have done what ever was necessary but realized that her lover would never be content with what his power had already brought him.

Salvaging the remaining of her pride Noura faced Antoun with an ultimatum: either he wed her legitimately or she would rather go into exile away from the Levant.  Gergis realized that his endeavor would be much facilitated if he could receive Noura’s backing in his searching task.  For the benefit of the stability of the Nation they struck an agreement that all dealings would be shared with her in secrecy, a condition that at least satisfied her pride for virtually sharing in the search selection.  In the meantime, she staunchly canvassed to have her initiated programs funded for the next yearly budget.

Three criteria for the search of a wife were set by Antoun:

1. that the Emir’s province be rich,

2. that his military preparedness be inferior to his kingdom and

3. that the two States share no common borders.

Basmat, the daughter of the Emir of Aleppo from one of his Christian concubines, was at the top of the contenders. The province of the Emir Aziz of Aleppo stretched from the port of Lattakieh to the region of Jazyra eastward and the area of Diar Bakr in the North.  It shared a long border South with the Viceroy of Damascus who got very perturbed and immediately arranged for his son to marry one of Aziz’s other daughters.

Noura ended up in Florence, Italy, and never married for the duration of her exile.  Noura gave birth to a son named Jacob after her father’s and toured all the States of Italy for four years, from Naples to Milan to Venice. Gergis was frequently in contact with her and used to assign her to difficult trade missions.

There came a time when Noura needed the action and motivation that she was used to having and requested a formal diplomatic appointment from Gergis who secured the duties of Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Levant to the European courts.

Noura opened a linguistic center in Florence to train the immigrant Levantines and enjoyed her job greatly and kept traveling to France, Spain and Holland, supporting the consuls and Lebanese merchants in their trades and commerce.

Rainbow over the Levant, (Chapter 10, part 2)

Yasmine dies  (a fiction story set in 14th century Lebanon)

In that year, Yasmine died of birth complications and Antoun’s grief was devastating: Yasmine had been lately feeling happier in her new castle, so close to Beirut with mild weather throughout the year.  Most importantly, she had been heading the hectic furnishing and interior design task force with renewed enthusiasm for life.

The First Emir was the father of two boys Adel and Asaad and a baby girl Wujdan.  Adal was only seven years old and Wujdan barely two years and their bereavement was unbearable.  Only Noura could take matters in her expert hands, and Antoun ordered her to relocate her quarters to his castle and raise his children as her own.

For two weeks, Antoun kept roaming the galleries where Yasmine’s aquarelle were displayed.  This behavior sent pangs of sadness in Noura’s heart, until Antoun started copying Yasmine’s original aquarelle.  Noura understood then that her defeat was inevitable and her nights lost the shimmer of hope.

Yes, Noura would not have minded that Antoun took up carpentry and imitated the wooden mechanical toys because they were imported products and did not represent the soul of Yasmine.

Very soon, the officials realized that Noura was firmly holding the real power and was considered the sole person with access to the ears and mind of the First Emir. She invested her energy with a vengeance and reigned unchallenged for 14 months, the time for Antoun to recover from his shock and exhibit a renewed zest for life.

Noura’s achievements

In the fourteen months of her administrative power, Noura managed great feats in the consolidation of the State and kept chaos from the neighboring States at bay.  She restructured the yearly budget to allocate more fund to her ministry of Health and Social Affairs at the expense of the ministry of Defense, passed new programs and expanded the scope of established programs.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs under Gergis Al Ustaz took on new missions and its budget was increased accordingly.  New economic and diplomatic missions were dispatched to Andalusia in Southern Spain which was still under Arabic and Moorish hands, to Venice and Florence in Italy, to Cyprus in Crusaders hands, to Morocco and France.  Consulates were opened in Venice and Florence and diplomatic interchanges were routinely undertaken.

Since society was organized on sectarian foundation and the whole structure in political administration and power sharing was basically related to religion, Noura understood that any drastic changes in that structure will destabilize society and allow chaos to spread. The first cultural task was to expose the myths among the various sects toward the other sects, which were unfounded but originating in a society isolated and ignorant due to lack of appropriate schools and communication and difficulty of traveling.

The problem was not simply negative myths but plainly unfounded and erroneous knowledge that exposed the country to dislocation at the first malicious rumors.  In order to remedy the power of obscurantism and attempt to unify the kingdom on firmer grounds Noura and her counselors laid out a two-phase plan.

The first edict was to reconstruct and rehabilitate the two Roman amphitheaters in Tyr and Baalbek and to build 3 new amphitheaters, one in the Capital Mtein, one in the port of Beirut and the third in the coastal port of Byblos.  These public gatherings were to encourage the population to meet, mingle, exercise, and attend plays; public bathing facilities were constructed adjacent to the amphitheaters.

The regular communication among the people, regardless of their social status or religious affiliations, was a political act that attracted the population and provided a legitimate environment for discussing social matters and entertaining healthy business deals and encouraging dialogue.

The previous isolated social structure that prevented strong interconnections among the various strata was replaced by free expression and easy communication that prepared the ground for open dialogue of what Noura expressed as, “who we are and what we need for the generations to come”.

Sport and cultural teams from the four corners of the kingdom were welcomed to compete in sports and artistic achievements in the amphitheaters.  The population began to set aside leisure time to travel and encourage their local teams and discover new locations and the opportunities available in bigger cities and towns.

The positive side effect of having two main events that extended for two weeks in the spring and fall greatly encouraged tourism from the neighboring kingdoms including as far as Egypt, Iraq and Turkey.  The ministry of Education was assigned the new essential responsibility of propagating, disseminating, and communicating the new political and social system.  Leaflets that contained the program of the events were extended with additional pages that provided news and edicts; these were highly targeted and at a reduced price.

The tourism activities offered opportunities to hire skilled personnel from other countries and a variety of industries were created to cater to the demands of this new business.

In addition to the larger gathering grounds, the government enacted plans to establish local gathering spaces to cater to the traveling theater troops of actresses and actors, to wedding ceremonies and to get together festivities and attractions.  Some of these gathering spaces were extensions of the church and mosque squares but many were not directly linked to any religious affiliation.

Orientalists, those European scholars and adventurers who wanted to pay a visit to the Levant, were clandestinely entering Lebanon with the knowledge and help of the Levant government.  Temporary passes were issued to them as traders and merchants and they were closely monitored in their travels:  the government was taking a calculated risk because the Mamluks viewed these European foreigners as a threat to the stability of their regime.

The Mamluks’ apprehension was understandable because the last Crusaders’ waves of invasion to the Levant in the previous century were still fresh in the society’s psyches.  However, the short-term memory of the Levant’s Christian population of the atrocities they suffered from the Crusaders was wiped out after the fresher tyrannical restrictions imposed by the Mamluks on Mount Lebanon.

Consequently, the mercantile mentality of the government of the Levant was not as squeamish as the Moslem’s Mamluks in welcoming the rich Europeans.  The embittered German, French and English were not that nostalgic to returning to the Levant any time soon, but the Italian and Spanish who did not participate heavily in the Crusaders’ campaigns needed to validate first hand the various tales they had overheard from the returning Crusaders.

It could be conjectured that the Italian and Spanish scholars and adventurers who had accumulated some riches from a period of peace were experiencing the dawn of a Renaissance and a new-found vigor.

            Along with the Portuguese, Italians, and Spaniards the Gypsies tagged along with their ambulatory circuses which were unfamiliar to the Levantine for a century.  The artisans got busy fabricating big top of tents, wooden terraces and typical trailers for the family circus companies.  The big tops did not expand more than fourteen meters in diameter but since it was not necessary to invest in chairs there was allowed plenty of space and besides they were so brightly colorful!  Soon after, the couple of circuses expanded their programs to include wild animals that terrified the Levantine; the few lions and brown bears that still existed in the higher altitudes were captured to be trained and to entertain the populace while even elephants made their way through seas from India.

The itineraries of the circuses were confined to the sea-coast chiefly because the access to the mountains was not feasible for the carriages hauling large animals but eventually a few rudimental programs of clowning and Italian burlesque shows were making their appearances in remote towns.

Many Levantine had new opportunities to learn various skills, talents and trades; old feats demonstrating raw strength and agility were channeled and reshaped on different instruments and maneuvers. The Gypsy trade was closely monitored because the First Emir had good understanding of their behavior during his contraband period, and the circuses emplacement and activities were somewhat controlled.

            One Sunday, Mariam and her adoptive daughter Samar attended a matinée of one of the circuses in Beirut; by the end of the program they were both awestruck and conquered.  Samar kept harassing her mother that she wanted to accompany the circus, reverberating the same longing in Mariam; both of them never slept a wink that night and by morning Gergis received the visit of Mariam asking for suggestions on the process of purchasing and maintaining a circus.

Gergis arranged  a deal with a minor circus owned by three brothers and two sisters of the Italian family Gambali which was not burdened by wild animals in its programs;  Mariam was to be part associate as a sixth owner along with the family with a say in setting new programs and directly collecting her share from the daily receipts.  Within two years Mariam, with the judicious financial acumen of Gergis, managed to buy out 50% of the business every time plans for expansion were contemplated.  The circus traveled the mountain regions for six months from early March to the end of October with Samar as a paid helper, actor, and translator which allowed her to learn the skills of the trade.

Gradually, Mariam won over the two Gambali sisters and the younger brother to her new ingenious program; it included dramatic stories acted in serial parts to be continued for two or three days according to the population density of the emplacements.  Ladies who attended the first part would tell and spread the first part of the story and the whole village would flock the next day to listen to the end of the story. Disgusted and shocked by this drastic change in the tradition of circus programming and the treachery within the family, the two elder Gambadi brothers sold their share to Mariam and hastily left Lebanon, never to return.

The flocking of the European orientalist inspired Noura to initiate the construction of a scientific center in Baldat El Mir in response to the demands from the enlightened Italian Princes for translated Arabic manuscripts.  Many Arabs from Andalusia and Egypt, who were bilingual in Latin or Spanish in addition to Arabic, were attracted and contracted out to settle a few years in the Levant. Arabic mathematical manuscripts in the fields of algebra, algorithms and geometry and scientific manuscripts in physics, chemistry, optics, medicine and astronomy were translated to Spanish and Latin and sold at premium prices.

Later on, maritime sciences and the fabrication of navigation equipment and instruments took priority in investment as the Levantine navy asserted its utility in trade and commerce.  The Levantine artists and merchants discovered a huge demand by the European tourists for sketches and paintings of the Levant’s landscapes and social customs and soon the souks were flooded with products satisfying the avidity of select buyers.

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction novel set in the 14th century Lebanon)

Note:  I decided to publish chapter 10 of my novel in three parts for easier read.

Chapter 10, Part 1: A concept for a unified nation

In this period of unstable centralized powers, the further away from Cairo the weaker the power of the Mamluk monarchy, along with the ever-present ghost of a recurrence of the Tatar threat, the Emir Antoun decided that the new political reality entitled him to give his State a name and a political recognition.

All the chiefs of villages and towns throughout the newly expanded Nation were convoked in mid May to a conclave that would last a week if necessary.

The chiefs brought along their families and assistants, while makeshift tents were erected in the Capital Mtein instead of Baldat El Mir to honor the anniversary of the new regime and remind the citizens of the real center of popular power.

The agenda for this gathering was:

 First, to devise a legislature House of Representatives with its responsibilities and the processes for implementing this proposal;

 Second to elect the first leader of this self-administered nation, and

 Third to discuss the proposal of taxing the donations in money and lands to monasteries and other religious domains so that no strata in society would enjoy undue privileges.

A confessional group under the implicit backing of Latifa (Antoun’s elder sister) and the Christian clergy was outspoken and canvassed diligently to secure a much higher share in representative members than their proportion entitled them. The rationale of this group was that the core partisans for the victorious insurrection were Christians and that it was the only nation with a sizable Christian denomination and surrounded by Moslem Empires.  This group also held firm on excluding Jews from the House because they were the persecutors of Jesus and they crucified him between two convicted criminals.

Antoun understood the ancient apprehension of his compatriots and their quest for a stable political framework that may secure confidence and animate the enterprising spirit in Mount Lebanon to open up to wider markets.  He worked out a tacit verbal agreement with the Moslems’ counterparts to accept a temporary tradeoff until the next election to allay the Christians’ fears of this novel form of participation.

This agreement was laden with many restrictions from both parties toward any form of female representation and excluding them from military obligations.

Antoun reluctantly had to bend to the power of tradition until more women prove themselves able to manage in the administration and learn to associate among themselves and voice their concerns politically.  However, he vehemently insisted on a limited female representations in municipality councils, appointing female and Jewish counselors and female civil servants in the government administrations, and on keeping the female military formations already in service.

Under this tacit agreement, the Christians would be represented by 65% of the House versus 35% for the Moslems.

On the last day of the assembly, Antoun was elected to ten years as First Emir of the Levant Emirate with no restrictions to a potential renewal for leadership.  The First Emir was tempted to call himself Sultan of the Levant, as traditions of the time required, but he realized that this title would generate more trouble from the dissenting neighboring Emirs and open the eyes of larger kingdoms to his future schemes of expansion.

Initial Parliamentary election

There was a need for a representative body of all the regions based on an electoral system.  No unanimous electoral system could be agreed upon that was satisfactory. A transitory and consensual one for the first election was enacted.

This first electoral system was flawed in many respects of religious proportion, gender discrimination and status levels of the representatives.

Women not only were forbidden to be candidates but also single women were not allowed to vote. The clergy of all religious sects were not to register as candidates but could cast their ballot. Anyone who did not own a house or a sizable piece of land could not be a candidate. However, it was decided that the fairness of the application of the system was to be strictly monitored and the lists of voters and candidates printed out in advance.

The clergy of various religious sects was surprised to learn that the chiefs of villages agreed to tax some of clergy wealth and also that they were cast out from representation.  These news shed a shadow of realization that changes in society were in the offing and proclamations to boycott the election were announced in churches and mosques. The government decided not to rescind the donation tax law but agreed to proceed with negotiations.

Mustafa’s position was that it was fair that the clergy should have the same rights as any citizen, especially that they were the most learned section in society.  For example, he said, “we certainly would have a hard time implementing any election if the clergy decided to boycott and refrain from helping the citizens in reading the procedures and writing petitions concerning discrepancies and unfair dealings during elections”.

Gergis pronounced that, “the clergy has already adopted a kind of democratic election within their hierarchy and has experience in running legislative conventions and would be an asset in enhancing the learning process of the next House of Representatives”.

A satisfactory deal was struck with the clergy:

 First, the rate of taxation on donations was reduced to 10% for the first two years and then increased to 15% subsequently and

Second, that the clergy of all denominations were called upon to select two representatives for each sect to the next House of Representatives but would be prohibited to cast a vote for the lay candidates and were urged to support the election process and monitor its fairness and accuracy.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

May 2021
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