Saturday, January 28, 2012

Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays - Luigi Pirandello

Luigi Pirandello, Italian Play-wright was in the fore front in establishing the direction of 20th century drama and theater. To many one of the initial practitioner of the 'modernism' in literature and a strong leader of the 'absurdist' plays. Winner of the nobel Prize in 1924, pretty son after two of his most reputed and celebrated plays were written and staged in 1921. Haven't read none of his works earlier, this compilation of the-most-known plays of Luigi Pirandello was a welcome receipt. I had to make some amends to my rather poor reading of plays in general. Three plays, translated by Mark Musa is compiled in this book. His most famous and controversial "Six Characters in Search of an Author", Henri IV and "So it is (of you think so)" are considered some of his best.

Six Characters..., starts with the the rehearsal of one of Pirandello's play by his theater group with the director leading the artists and the support staff to the stage. Six characters , member of a family literally invade the stage, demanding their story to be taken up and written. The leader of them, the Father, tells the director that their story is unrealised and they need some one to conclude. Intrigued by the scenario, Director give them the chance to narrate. The family story of betray and the complex relationship between father, mother, their son, the second marriage of the mother and her daughter all comes at once to narrate their part of the tale. The act of switching between the characters and the actors who are expected to portray them begin. the reality and the realisation now get entangled, as the characters wanted them to be appropriately portrayed.

Cant you see all the trouble lies here ! In the words ! All of us have a world full of things inside us, each of us his own world of things! How can we understand one another, sir, if in the words I speak I put the meaning and the value of things as I myself see them, while the one who listens inevitably takes them according to the meaning and the value he has in himself of the world he has inside of himself.
The play is more than the structural and theatrical possibility of the extension of the boundaries of the stage. To me it also examines the unknown or unspoken relationship between the characters, the actors who portray them, the theater hands including the director and the audience. In the whole sequence of performance, each owe to play their own parts to perfection.

According to Pirandello, the interpreted meaning of the characters being portrayed on stage has more truth than the character's reality. Its is the realization of the characters through the artist completes their existence.

miracle of a reality that is born, evoked,attracted and formed on the stage itself and which has more right to live here than all of you, because it is much truer than you ?

But for an author, he only have to let the characters do the task of telling the story, he is merely someone who documents what the characters do independently.

When characters are alive, truly alive before their author, he has only to follow them in their words and actions which they precisely suggest to him... When the character is born, he immediately assumes so much independence, even from his own author..
In the theatrical experiment, Six characters has much larger scope of expansion.

Henri IV ( enrico IV ) , looks at the madness of an actor resulted from a fatal fall from the horse. Believing himself to be the 11th century King Henri IV, he was looked after under a closely guarded room, with his relatives imbibing the appropriate characters to match his illusion. Having spent 20 years thus, his family is trying to revive him and bring him back to normalcy, with the help of a doctor. As the scene progresses, it become unclear to the readers and audience, on who is insane. Henri IV, declares to his helpers that he is indeed sane, and he is getting the rest to act to his will by behaving this way and he believe it is better to act insane in the 20th century and live in the world created by him, than to live among the others who believe themselves to be sane.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am cured because I know how to play the part of the madman to perfection, right here; and I do it quietly. The trouble with you is that you live in your own madness with such agitation that you do not even know of see it !
The subject is very interesting and can be interpreted and modelled to the time and place of its stage. Once you are prepared to play the role of insane, the rest appears to be in your control. It is you who decide the roles and actions of those around you. So, for the 'Henri IV' , he prefer to remain insane, even after he reveal his true nature to his assistants. Now, the true nature is known, he goes back to the role he chose for himself. I find this idea brilliant and the narrative multi layered and with scope of multiple scope of interpretation and understanding.

So it is, tracks the Ponza family mystery through the prying and curious eyes of the town people. Ponza, moving into the town as a clerk to the Governor , having lost the entire relatives in a natural disaster. He also brings his mother in law to the town and place her in the room in the same compound as his superior. He along with his wife moves into an apartment located in the 9th floor of a nearby building. The rumour spread on the mother and daughter and their relation. According to the gossip, mother and daughter do not meet each other and the son, being the only link between them divides his time between the mother-in-law and his wife. Various theories emerge and the lady folks in town in general are curious. It is now become the responsibility of the authorities to demystify this to the public. The complication starts with the version of mother in law and the Son, both claiming the other to be mentally instable and they are acting this way to keep the other in their current belief. Ponza claims that the lady's daughter, whom he had married, had died long ago and he had married for second time. however, knowing the medical condition of his erstwhile mother-in-law, he wants to keep things as it is with the lady, pretending to be married to her daughter. Bringing them together, can unveil the whole build up thus causing unwanted issue. However, according to the mother-in-law, the illness is to the son, and her daughter and she had planned to this to keep him sane, getting him married to the same women twice. As the listeners are divided in their opinion, convinced with the respective versions, the Governor now get involved to solve the mystery, summoning the wife of Ponza.

Pirandello is a master in extending the possibilities of the stage beyond its construct. Six characters explore this possibility brilliantly. The characters and audience and the behind the stage hands all become part of the experiment. Characters claims that they have an identity and the artists are only trying to portray only part of it. Written almost a century ago, and having seen its imitation in various forms, I thought it still has a freshness that is unique. Henri IV, to me stands much better in terms of its adaptability and interpretation. The often blurred line of sanity and insanity is examined here brilliantly through the character Henri IV. Who is acting sane and who is really insane is becoming subjective to the time, space and the situation. 'So it is' is more dramatic and appears as cheap suspense thriller. It goes through the melodrama , the anti-climax and the reflection on the of the society ( which is not new) in typical theatrical style.

Both Six characters and Henri IV is written after some he had some personal tragedies. His daughter attempted suicide and his wife went insane towards the end of second decade of the 1900s. These personal tragedies supposed to have hugely influenced his creative output during which some of his all time great works are originated. Outstanding..
Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays ( 1921)

Luigi Pirandello ( translated from Italian by Mark Musa 1995)

Penguin Books

206 Pages

Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Day of Life - Manlio Argueta

I have an affinity for political novels, especially if they are of the nature of struggle and fight against oppression and authoritarian violence. I haven't known this writer earlier, and this seems to be the only novel written by him.

One day of Life, takes through the events that happens in a day to the family of Lupe ( Guadelupe Guardado) , a 45 year old grand mother, living in a provincial village in the interiors of El Salvador. The voice of the novel is of Lupe, with occasional notes and memories of others involved. The early day begin with her husband Jose, returning to the nearby forest , to avoid being interrogated , arrested and tortured by the police. She had lost her son recently, having brutally murdered , presumably after a prolonged torture. She was called to identify the body, which was beyond recognition. The day begun with the police team of two arriving at her door step, enquiring about her grand daughter Adolfino, with whom they wanted to have a word or two. An activist in her, is strong and is ready to face the consequences, however, the grand mother in her would not like to get the girl in trouble. The girl, who lives with her parents far away, had come to her grand mother for spending a week or two. It is known that the girls father had been taken by the authorities, and is "disappeared" since then. The girl herself was involved in an agitation of occupying the nearby church organised by the farmers demanding an end to police atrocities. The siege, is considered a great success, with the government agreed to their demands. However, the brutalities continued and the girl was asked to move to the grand mother for a few weeks. As the events unfold through the day, we were given account of the background of the farmers agitation and the aftermath.

This is the beginning of the trouble in El Salvador. The rich land owners and the government on one side and the farmers with some support from the church and the intellects on the other. For the authorities, the rebelling farmers and farm workers are influenced by the "Communists" and they had to be crushed. The initial support from the church and the priest were crushed with the murder of the young priest. The men are arrested and brutally tortured and the rest deserted their house and escaped to the hills. The authorities, set up a "special force" with the support of the CIA ( with an American Instructor and a Japanese Martial Art specialist) preparing them to combat the agitators with no mercy, as 'communists' should never e allowed to spread. The Church itself, after being the initial part of the creation and sustainability of the 'Christian Farmers Organisation' had been through the dilemma of taking stands, slowly distancing themselves from the movement. Jose, husband of Lupe is the leader of the organisation in their locale, hence being on constant danger of being captured and murdered.The villagers, stuck in between were paying the price with their lives. Their living condition continue to be in bad shape, all the works are controlled by the land owners, and are paid very low. Children are forced to work from the tender age of seven to support the families.

The language is brilliant and poetic. It is spoken through the words of Lupe, hence non -sophisticated and clear. The words and thinking are that of the old lady, and it is the village wisdom that comes out. But underneath is the profound tale of resistance, of awareness and of courage. All these brutality did not shake the determination of the people. At every setback, including loss of lives of their beloved, people show their resilience. Lupe goes through all that can be suffered by some one of her age. Loss of her son, missing of her son- in- law, the trouble that befallen her grand daughter, Adolgino at the young age of fourteen, shows a lot of intelligence and maturity. Even at the end of the day, when they were asked to identify the mis-shapen carcass of a human body ( well, almost, the eyes were open and was still blinking), she did not loose her courage. While Adolfino, could not and did not identify the body, Old Lupe had no trouble to realise, but refuses to succumb, refusing to reveal the identity of the person. It is these tales of survival that fuel the courage of the generations that follow to continue their resolve to fight for justice. It is from these blood that shed, grew newer sprouts of hope. And what this book leaves you with, despite the horrid tale of struggle, is this hope for a better future.

Beautifully told story of the political violence and uprising in El Salvador, through the words of a 45 year of 'grand mother'. As the title says, the events happen in one day , with narration intermixed with re-telling or recounting of the connected stories of gruesome act of atrocities by the authorities. This book was banned on publication , in El Salvador and the writer was living in exile ever since (he was deported at least 4 times from his country). Very good.
One Day of Life ( 1980 )

Manlio Argueta ( Translated from Spanish by Bill Brow 1983)

Aventura - Vintage

215 Pages
Mimilooc, Angelfire, Wiki Entry

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Hero's Daughter - Andrei Makine

Before reading this book, I had read 5 other books of Andrei Makine. This was the first published book of Andrei Makine, luckily not the first to get translated to English. Interestingly, when he submitted the manuscript to publishers, it was rejected, for being written in French. It was told that, he resubmitted the same as a translated work from Russian, for it to be accepted, and the rest is history.

Having said that, to me this book wasn't all that impressive. It does have the mark of Andrei Makine, its vivid description, the nostalgic feeling of the past, the exotic landscapes and all that. But on the whole it had a lot short comings despite attempting a theme of interest.

Andrei Makine presents two lives to us. One Ivan Demidov, who saves Moscow from falling into the control of the advancing Germans during the World War II, almost alone. He was awarded the "Gold Star" and was the official "Hero of the Soviet Union". 40 years thence, we see his daughter working for the KGB , working at the International Trade Center, as an interpreter for the visiting delegates and businessmen, sneaking out their documents to the waiting officials, by compromising her personal integrity.

The book started with the battle scene where the dead and injured soldiers were removed from the battlefield after an ambush, where Ivan was rescued by the military nurses. Observed as dead, Ivan was lucky to have the nurse Tatanya taking notice of him. Recuperated at the hospital , he leaves again to the front, leaving behind his love for Tanya. He return to the hospital looking for his love, despite the physical and medical issues Tanya had to suffer due to an explosion, he decided to marry her. The couple goes back to his village in the outskirts of Moscow. Olys Demidov was born to the couple who survived famine which took the life of their first son, and the death of Stalin.

Life is changed again in the eighties with the death of 3 leaders in a row. Breshnev, Chernenko and Andropv ( the dreaded ex-KGB chief). Gorbachev has sworn in with some internal political maneuvering. The new changes in the political and social structure. Peristroika and Glastnost aren't gone well with the old, who are now settled to a routine living. The disturbances are in the raise, Ivan looses his wife in one of the revolt by the frustrated youth. He take solace in drinking from grief. Once a hero of the Soviet Union is now a piece of ridicule to the public and to the authorities, selling every piece of his belongings, drinking all the way, Ivan'c contempt to the new ways were reached the peak after he witnessed his daughter, in her current job.

Andrei Makine attempts to bring the two poles together. Two generations one still cherish the memories of survival , of war and of survival from the iron fisted rule. The new generations do not have the same values and virtues. There seems to be a new hope of something changing. While the iron fist continue to govern, there are dreams of a better life. They dream about the western way of living. For them war is a learning through text books. Germany is not an enemy, but a world of glorious possibilities and freedom. The old heroes of war is replaced by the newer ones, fighting in Afganistan. It is this duality that Andrei Makine trying to attempt to capture in his first attempt. I wouldn't say he failed in it, but having read other books from this brilliant writer, I am a bit disappointed at the outcome.
A Hero's Daughter ( 1990 )

Andrei Makine ( Translated from French by Geoffrey Strachan 2004)

Sceptre Paperback

163 Pages
The Publishers Weekly

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Melancholy of Resistance - László Krasznahorkai

I remember the 'bus journey scene' in one of the Malayalam Art Movie, which lasted about 15 min. The camera focussing on the traveller and the 'beedi' that he smoked. The initial 50 odd pages of this book reminded me of thar scene , with Mrs Plauf taking a train journey from the village , returning to her home town, experiencing all the terror during the short journey.

The provincial town, in the interiors of Hungary is the typical laid back , uninteresting place. The tranquility and the easy nature of the town is derailed with the arrival of a touring circus company announcing the exhibition of the largest whale ever to be seen in the world. Along with the circus came all that was uninvited to the town. The rascals, the hooligans and other criminals from not only the neighboring villages and towns but from far away as well. With the authorities in inaction and the chaos and the trouble that erupted, it needed the the town committee to step up and take vigil, with the help of the country Militia.

At the outset, its a fairly simple and straight forward tale. But what this book is not about is this tale. With his complex yet interesting style of narrative , Krasznahorkai builds a story of terror, of anarchy of the psyche of people disoriented by the sudden change of events. The metaphoric story depicts the chaos, politics and greed and the fate of the common people. Told through the eyes of 5 people, each going through their daily monotonous life, linking up to the events that is taking place at the square indirectly affecting their own life. As the vandalism spread through the town, the newly emerged leaders, manipulating the populace for their own personal greed. The power equation of the town changes, the family relationships is in for permanent change the hidden characteristics of the individuals surface.

Reading is not easy. There are no paragraph breaks, and sentences are miles long. Reading demands utter concentration true to the nature of the subject., The build up is slow and deliberate. There is a constant under current of terror. What makes this book different is the voice which is not spoken. The structure, the often boring dry and long sentences that are loaded. Surrealistic, possibly connected to the velvet revolution that hit the country, depicting the fright and terror of people under the sleepy authorities when the so called 'mini revolution' create havoc in the town. Very subtle and parodical humour goes with the narrative.

Its the language ( George Szirtes , the translator, in this interview says, "for sheer density of text in prose", this book was his hardest translation job) , the structure and style makes this book very different from the rest. Its mesmerizing, often frustrating, intensity of the narration is hard to get used to , but once you overcome this obstacle, then you are in for a fabulous journey. We follow some of the memorable characters in their extreme slow motion with their fortunes of life. Mrf Plauff, with her initial train journey to the sad end during the turmoil, her estranged son, half-wit , mercurial post master Valsuka, his master the artist, painter, professor Mr.Ezster, his wife Mrs.Ezster, whom he threw out of their house, but now trying to sneak in and take control of the house, plotting and maneuvering the system to take control of the town, the drunkard police officer, lover of Mrs,Ezster, the various other small characters grow into you through their accounts in the story.

A brilliant novel from an outstanding writer. A book that demand a re-read and a writer whom I am most likely to read soon.
The Melancholy of Resistance ( 1989)

László Krasznahorkai ( Translated from Hungarian by George Szirtes 1998)

New Direction Books

314 Pages
Other Reviews : Cinema Parallel, Voice imitator, Danny Reviews, The Second Circle, Conversational Reading