“For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing, if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay protected in my entrails like a secret. There it would be, lodging in my breast and nourishing my endless nights, there, in the depths of the humid earth, in that tomb smelling of man stripped of his humanity by shovel blows that flay him alive, snatching away his sight, his voice, and his reason.”
‘This Blinding Absence of Light’ by a Moroccan writer, Tahar Ben Jelloun narrates a story of political prisoners who took part in a failed coup against King Hassan II of Morocco in 1971. This story is based on real events and author’s interview with a former prisoner Aziz Binebine.
Following the attempt to oust the King, sixty people were incarcerated for eighteen years in a secret prisoncalled Tazmamart which was located in the Sahara Desert. The conditions in that prison were horrid, atrocious. The prisoners were literally buried alive, kept in a complete darkness in a single underground cell of five foot high and nine foot long where they could not stand up nor sit up; scorpions and other insects occupied the cells with the prisoners, with one small hole for air and another hole in the ground used as a lavatory. They only received enough food to make it until next day. The only time they were allowed to go out was to bury other prisoners.
“Distant View of A Minaret” by Alifa Rifaat (1930 – 1996) is a collection of fifteen short stories depicting lives of womenwithin a traditional Muslim society.
Rifaat shows Muslim women who wish to adhere to strict religious teachings and they see men as the ones who do not follow their religious obligations towards women. She challenges this behaviour but her criticism is far from the feminism as perceived in the Western world.
The main subjects in these stories are marriage, death, sexual fulfilment, physical and emotional abuse, loneliness of loveless life, the inability to communicate one’s feelings to others, ageing and relationship between husband and wife from woman’s perspective portrayed within the religious norms and moral values of Islam. Those themes were dealt with such frankness that I have not seen in many contemporary books. Rifaat’s stories shows women who have views, opinions but still within a religious conservative framework.
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak tackles many different topics including religion, or rather the meaning of God in one’s life, how cultural and political circumstances shape lives of the individuals and the position of women in Eastern and Western societies.
The story does provide an insight into Turkey’s turbulent past such as military coup in the 1980s and how life looked like during the rule of the military. There are descriptions of house search, torture, imprisonment of the individuals for holding different opinions to the ones accepted by the government and society. We also see what the years of torture, imprisonment and humiliation can do to the individual life.
Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese writer living in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was born in Cairo, grew up in Khartoum and moved to Scotland in the 1990s. Her books often deal with the experience of being ‘an outsider’, an immigrant and she also frequently touches on the subject of religion: Islam and what it means to be a devoted Muslim woman in today’s world.
Elsewhere, Home is a collection of vignettes about immigration, loss, alienation, crossing different cultures, what it means to be ‘third culture’ child. Those stories explore human relationships with a great deal of empathy. They offer a very nuanced, complex picture of immigration. This collection evolves around immigration in the UK, with a special focus on Scotland. We meet a variety of characters from different social backgrounds across all age groups, mainly coming from East Africa and Middle East.
“Many years later I tried to find that hotel I hadn’t recorded its name or address in the black notebook, the way we tend not to write down the most intimate details of our lives, for fear that, once fixed on paper, they’ll no longer be ours”.
I read Patrick Modiano‘s books whenever I feel overwhelmed with life as his storytelling has this dream-like quality which helps me to transport myself into a different time and epoch.
Shadowy, atmospheric, sublime multi-layered and mesmerising….
The Black Notebook is a tale of M E L A N C H O L Y, loss, disappearance, identity, the passage of time and remembrance. It deals with the fragility of memories, the relationship with people who ‘visit’ our lives for a short period of time but they influence the rest of our journey.
The main protagonist, Jean wanders the same streets of Paris he used to roam forty years earlier as a young man in the company of a young woman called Dannie. Jean is trying to re-trace her life in Paris to understand who she was. His perception of Dannie differs to the picture of her life that comes to light as he re-visits the places they both used to frequent. There is no easy answer to apparently the most mundane questions which is common in Modiano’s prose.
This a little uplifting book recommendation from my side for anyone in need of magical and cosy stories.
“84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff provides one of these pleasant reading experiences. It is a true story written by real life events; this tale is both life-affirming and sad but still a real treat for all the bibliophiles.
This gem consists of letters written between an American writer, Helene Hanff and a British bookseller, Frank Doel and other employees of Marks & Co Bookshop in London which was based in Charing Cross Road. Their correspondence overspanned the period of twenty years, between 1949 and 1968. Sadly, Frank died in 1968 without ever having an opportunity to meet Helene in person.
This little book is about developing a long-distance friendship between two people by the means of letters. Over two decades, they had exchanged gifts, recipes, ideas on books and current world events. What started as an inquiry about one book that Helene was unable to find in New York City, it turned into a magical relationship between two unique souls connected by their love for words and stories.
“(…) but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind”.
“(..) to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day being able to protect what is most valuable to you”.
“We are all migrants through time”.
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamidis a tale about migration, through places, time, cultures. The story of the main protagonists, Nadia and Saeed, explores many intersecting themes including the position of women living independently in a patriarchal society, a portrayal of destruction and mass violence caused by wars, the meaning of home, of belonging, of being a refugee, migrant through time and places, a portrayal of grief after losing the loved ones and over relationships ending, a relation with one’s family, culture, the significance of our personal dreams and of objects in one’s life and its association with the lives of others, the meaning of religious and cultural rituals, a portrayal of loving and nurturing relationship between parents and their child and the list goes on.
“I feel fortunate at least to open books and be invited to step in, if that book shelters me and keeps me warm, I know I’ve come home”.
“I’m fascinated with how those of us who live in multiple cultures and the regions in between are held under the spell of words spoken in the language of our childhood. After a loved one dies, your senses become oversensitized. Maybe that’s why I sometimes smell my father’s cologne in a room when no one else does. And why words once taken for granted suddenly take on new meanings”.
“From childhood’s hour I have not been As others were—I have not seen As others saw—I could not bring My passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken My sorrow; I could not awaken My heart to joy at the same tone; And all I loved, I loved alone. Then—in my childhood—in the dawn Of a most stormy life—was drawn From every depth of good and ill The mystery which binds me still: From the torrent, or the fountain, From the red cliff of the mountain, From the sun that round me roll’d In its autumn tint of gold— From the lightning in the sky As it pass’d me flying by— From the thunder, and the storm, And the cloud that took the form (When the rest of Heaven was blue) Of a demon in my view—”
“I have been willing to overlook in French culture what I would not accept in my own for the privilege of living in translation”.
French Lessons by Alice Kaplan is an interesting book. The author elaborates on such themes as living life through an acquired language and its impact on one’s course of life; the reasons as to why people want to adopt a different culture, the question of acceptance by so-called ‘native speakers’ but also there is a question as to who defines who is a ‘real’ native [speaker]. The book also discusses the reasons related to French intellectuals being attracted by fascism during the 1930s and 1940s and it explores the idea of freedom of speech and ethics related to it.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favourite books I have ever read. This book holds a special place in my heart as it depicts beautifully with all the necessary nuances the most important characteristics related to Russia and Eastern Europe during the course of the tragic 20th century. Having an Eastern European heritage, Bulgakov’s book has always resonated with me at a personal level as no other book ever had.
A few photos from Paris that I took during December 2019 while visiting the city with my mum. We walked a lot, we visited many bookshops and spent a great time wandering streets of Montmarte! My favourite treat was a visit to Angelina and drinking their hot chocolate!