Anyone who doubts the value of ethical journalism need to read “A Hundred and One Days” by Asne Seierstad. The dedication of journalists in the midst of change is priceless especially in the era of know-it and believe-it-all social media. The risks they take in conflicts and war areas are beyond comprehension to those in front of screens in the comfort of our homes.
You’ll find the description of the book and the events it covers during the US army invasion of Iraq in other sources, so, no need for me to repeat it here. Yet again Seierstad offers us a literary journalism of the highest quality. I learned so much about so many things I knew nothing about the life of Iraqi. I will share some of these:
“The truth about the war in Iraq does not exist. Or rather, there are millions of true accounts and maybe just as many lies. My remit as a journalist in the chaos of war was not to judge, predict or analyse. It was to look, ask and report.”
“In the 1970s this was a beautiful country. We had the best education system, the best healthcare in the Arab world. Oil gave us riches. In 1990 I had a Mercedes, says the bookseller. – Now I have these two legs.”
“Hotel Palestine is a landmark in Baghdad. – They will never attack this hotel; after all, Americans live here, an Iraqi woman surrounded by her children had assured me. But that is exactly what the Americans have done. In the subject box I write: ‘Missiles against the cameras’.”
“They said they were opening the doors to freedom and they have opened those to chaos instead.”
“The soldiers I meet are possibly naïve, with a strong belief that Americans can do what they want, but they are a more diverse group than I had expected.”
“Iraqis have always craved books. They are our sustenance. Besides love they are all we need, the bookseller says, and recites one of his own poems, about a man who is dying of love but has not the courage to tell his sweetheart.”
I rarely read Introductions, for they tend to give you certain perspectives right from the beginning. Yet, the Introduction to Ali and Nino is worth reading, while remembering that: “Ali and Nino would be well worth reading even if it were not the brilliantly achieved novel that it is. It takes us, as Western readers, into a world in which it is very good for us to be.” To me the novel gives voices to all engulfed in the turmoil of the first world war: Ali, a mohammedan in heart and deeds, Nino, a Georgian aristocrat staying true to herself even in a harem in Persia, an imam who can distinguish between love and senseless sacrifice, true friends who’ll put their friend’s best interest above their own… The novel takes the reader to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan, and Persia, and we learn about the morals reigning in all these places during those times, while Nino and Ali’s love between a christian and a mohammedan unfolds in spite of everything and everyone.
My favourite passages:
“The Orient’s dry intoxication comes from the desert, where hot wind and hot sand make men drunk, where the world is simple and without problems. The woods are full of questions. Only the desert does not ask, does not give, and does not promise anything. But the fire of the soul comes from the wood. The desert man—I can see him—has but one face, and knows but one truth, and that truth fulfils him. The woodman has many faces. The fanatic comes from the desert, the creator from the woods. Maybe that is the main difference between East and West.’”
“The wise man must not let himself be disturbed by either praise or blame.”
“The magic of this town lies in the mystical bond between its races and peoples”. – about Baku.
‘This wine is pure, for God is in it.” – Georgians about their wine.
Probably one of the most just description of Georgians: “Georgians seem to me like noble deer, strayed amongst the jungle mixtures of the Asiatics. No other Eastern race has this charm, these graceful movements, this fantastic lust for life and healthy enjoyment of leisure.”
It is no news that history is selective and the greatest human stories are left unwritten. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to authors who bring to light, even through fiction, the stories of those we will not find in historical accounts.
Kristin Hannah tells us why she wrote “The Nightingale”: “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked. Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives. The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.”
“The Nightingale” – or rosignol in French – takes the reader to the German-occupied France in the second world war. Nightingale is a code name for a Resistance member who rescued downed airmen in France and took them on foot through Pyrenees mountains to the British consulate in Spain. The main characters’ stage is shared by two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – who were estranged after their mother’s death and reconnected through unbelievable struggles of war. The characters seem to be opposites at the beginning. As the story unfolds, we see them more alike than apart, each brave in her own way.
Alaska. The Great Alone: Alaska – the great alone. Alaska: the great – alone. Alaska – the Great, alone… each reader will find his/her own understanding in this rich novel. I loved the plot, the characters and the style. I was looking forward to pickup my Kindle in the evening to keep reading it.
The story of a young woman married to an ex-Vietnam soldier who brought the hell in his mind to their marriage. Their daughter – thirteen-year-old Leni – is caught in the middle of her parents toxic relationship. In the hope of a fresh start, they move to Alaska. It is never easy to read about domestic violence. In this novel it is amplified by the harsh climate of Alaska, which is unforgiving: “A woman has to be tough as steel up here. You can’t count on anyone to save you and your children. You have to be willing to save yourselves.” Yet Hannah shows it to us from a survivors’ and not from a victim’s perspective. They find true friendship, love and finally – peace.
It is probably my least favorite novel by Shafak so far. It could be the timing and my mind’s needs at this point. It does not diminish one single point its value.
“The Flea Palace” is about emotional lives spent behind the doors of our dwellings, where we think we have privacy. A tragicomic look at a community of people denying themselves any sense of belonging to a community, even if it lives under one roof, the roof of the Bonbon Palace built by a former Russian general for his wife.
My favorite passages:
« Truth is a horizontal line. Be it a hotel corridor, hospital ward, rehabilitation centre or train compartment; all are horizontal. In such places, all your neighbours are lined up next to you on a horizontal plane, for a fleeting moment. You cannot grow roots at these places. Horizontality is the haven of evanescence. I too have been living on a horizontal line for sixty-six days – in the seventh of the ten cells lined up next to each other here. »
« Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. Verticality Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. «
Honour. Think about this word. “An action of honoring or paying respect to; act or gesture displaying reverence or esteem; state or condition inspiring respect; nobleness of character or manners; high station or rank; a mark of respect or esteem; a source of glory, a cause of good reputation.” Sounds heavy, obliging, demanding, and in total opposition to “humble”.
What do you honor by killing? Can you get rid of guilt of killing for honour? … this novel raises so many questions from a variety of perspectives. What is “honour” to a sister, a daughter, a loving son, an unforgiving son, a wife, a community of the same faith, a society of many faiths… I loved the story line, and the dual timelines, and every single character. Shafak is a unique writer to me, as she breaths the life into her characters as if she lived each of their stories separately and then jointly. And she does so with grace and humility.
I am very much enjoying books telling stories from the perspective of vulnerable. « The secrets we left behind » tells the story of British nurses left behind during the army’s evacuation from France at the beggining of the WWII. Cate, a brave nurse and Jack, her rescued patient, meet two French sisters who shelter them under the nose of Germans. The story takes time to unfold, so you might need to be patient at the beginning. The author tried to show us that even during unbelivable hurdles humans can fall in love. I found though this part a bit overboard, perhaps because all female characters fell in love one after another.
The background scenery serves well its purpose, so that the mind can picture and place the characters in Normandie at the time of the action.
An Armenian family, a Turkish family, United States, Turkey, past and present and the unspoken atrocities of what was done… « The Bastard of Istanbul » is not a light, entertaining reading. I have enormous admiration for the unbiased way Shafak tells us the story with love and respect to all concerned.
Yet another delight from Elif Shafak. I loved it. Shafak guides the reader through intricacies of humanity with wit and love, compassion and wisdom. Her Istanbul became mine.
“The Architect’s Apprentice” is to me a love story, a story of brotherhood, a story of creation, a story of jealousy, a story of grandiose failures and humble beginnings. In other words, it is fully human. I found her characters authentic to the core.
I rejoiced yet another time in the tides of Safak’s wisdom. Here are a few of favourite quotes:
‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’
“Little did he know, back then, that the worth of one’s faith depended not on how solid and strong it was, but on how many times one would lose it and still be able to get it back.”
“Centre of the universe was neither in the East nor in the West. It was where one surrendered to love.”
‘Truth is a butterfly: it lands on this flower and that. You run after it with a net. If you capture it, you are happy. But it won’t live long. Truth is a delicate thing.’
In her Autor’s Note, Shafak expresses “hope that this story, too, will flow like water in the hearts of its readers.” I definitely did in my heart.
I found this novel enchanting and best absorbed together with a mug of coffee with a pinch of nutmeg. Three female characters. A quest for God. A professor as a guide. Traditions and chains. Beliefs and confusion. Freedom and peace. Love and betrayal. Religion and faith. West and East. Luxury and poverty. … Only Elif Shafak can entangle them all for each of us to find what we are looking for.
My favorite quotes:
“There’s no wisdom without love. No love without freedom. And no freedom unless we dare to walk away from what we have become.”
“The degree of one’s emotions varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts.”, quoting Russell.
« Certainty was to curiosity what the sun was to the wings of Icarus. Where one shone forcefully, the other couldn’t survive. With certainty came arrogance; with arrogance, blindness; with blindness, darkness; and with darkness, more certainty. »
« Believers favour answers over questions, clarity over uncertainty. Atheists, more or less the same. Funny, when it comes to God, Whom we know next to nothing about, very few of us actually say, ‘I don’t know.’ »