Thursday, April 17, 2008

Devil in the Hill - Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese was an Italian writer and Poet , who ended his life at the age of 42. He was one of the authors who skipped my reading list for a long time. I could not get hold of any of his works in India despite my search , until recently through the new Peter Owen Classics collections.

This novel about post war Turin youths spending their holidays in the country side, moving closure to nature. During their stay in Orsete's wine yard in the village, they spend their time sunbathing naked in the clifts and drinking in the wineyards. They spend few days at their friend Poli's residence and the game of seduction and morality begins. This interesting novel is about the rich young Italian aristocrats and their life of crime, adultery, drugs and suicide. Pavese explores the different human characters through this very personal narrative, taking us through the Rich/ordinary , youth / aged , family / independent adultery/morality conflicts.

This has been talked about as the most personal novel of Pavese, and gives us a good view of post world war Italian urban/country life through his experience. Having said that, I hope this is not the best of his works. I would be disappointed otherwise. None the less, it gave me the glimpses of a genius writer, I missed reading so long.

Cesare Pavese
Devil in the HillTranslated by D D Paige
Peter Owen Publishers
190 Pages

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak

Kazanci family is cursed. The men in their family do not survive, they all face premature death. Some by accident, some by decease , and some by murder. The family is now with Three generations of women, all of them very different from each other. Into this family is born Asya, as a bastard. She does not know her father, her mother Zeliha, never reveals the name to anyone. The novel starts with Zeliha going to the clinic to have an abortion, but returns back deciding against in the last minute. Asya now 19 years is a born rebel as her mother is, whom she calls 'Auntie' as she calls the other inmates of the Kazanci family.
However, Mustafa, the only male member of this family is still alive, away from the family and homeland, to escape the bad luck befallen on them, in the deserts of Arizona in US. Mustafa's stepdaughter, Armanoush is an Armenian-American, grown up on stories of the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915. She lands up in Istanbul in search of her past ( the past of every Armenian family forced to exile from Istanbul).
Asya and Armanoush become friends and set out to locate her ancient house and the history of Armenian's in Istanbul. Two young ladies, both 19 yrs old, one who does not have a past and do not want to know the pasts and the other whose preset is linked to the past and the history of the Armenian people. For Asya, history mean nothing. She does not even know who her father is and for Armanoush everything is the past.
The novel now takes to the usual expected sets of events and a predictable end. Armanoush's parents comes to Istanbul worried about the safety of their child. Mustafa is returning to his homeland after 20 years, and more and more unpleasant history of the Kazanci's family unveiled as the days goes by. As expected, Asya finds out who her biological father is, and Mustafa fails to fight the destiny.

In this second novel by Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, she tries to looks into the Turkish identity and the issues related to the Armenian genocide with the story ( history) of two families; a turkish and an Armenian-American family suffered during the 1915 genocide. Though the novel discusses the issue at places, and the inability of the survivors family to get over with it, it is not covered at length. The only history we understand of the family is from the revelations by the 'djinn' on the left should of Auntie Banu. Similarly, the discussion on the Istanbulites, who does not take responsibility and refuses to accept any genocide, limited to few encounters at the Cafe Kundera.

The novel already gained sufficient controversies after Elif Shafak was charged with "public denigration of Turkishness" , which was later dropped.
Credits :
The Bastard of Istanbul
Elif Shafak
Viking Penguin
368 Pages