This week I have linked a couple of fascinating essays on language, identity and writing.
The first is by Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Lowland and the Pulitzer prize winning The Interpreter of Maladies. It tells of her attempts at learning Italian and switching from English to her new language in her writing – a process which culminated in the publication of her latest book, In Other Words, early this year.
Jhumpa Lahiri on writing in a foreign language
The second essay provides a more analytical look at what it means for writers to have more than one language at their disposal.
Ana Menendez on being a multilingual writer in the 21st century
Some years ago, Robert Seethaler published a novel entitled Der Trafikant about the shy owner of a kiosk in Vienna where Sigmund Freud regularly bought his cigars. Asking Freud for help with his courtship of the waitress Anezka, it becomes apparent that the famous psychoanalyst knows as little about women as the hapless kiosk owner. This tragic-comedy skilfully balances the private and the political with both Freud’s and the kiosk owner’s inability to understand Anezka mirrored in their inability to clearly foresee the dangers of the rise of Nazism in Austria in the 1930s.
While Der Trafikant garnered some attention, it was the author’s follow-up, A Whole Life, which turned out to be a runaway success, spending weeks on Germany’s bestseller lists, becoming the first of his five novels translated into English and recently getting longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Unfortunately, for this book Seethaler ditched the gentle comedy and, to its detriment, stuck with the tragedy. Set in the dramatic landscape of the Alps, the slim volume tells the story of farm labourer, Andreas Egger, wrestling with the elements and life’s existential questions of love and death. Continue reading “The One-Dimensional Man: “A Whole Life” by Robert Seethaler”
There are two links today, both related to last week’s review of The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud.
First up is an account of the aftermath of two controversial opinion pieces Daoud published in Le Monde and the New York Times respectively. His editorials dealt with issues of Islam and sexuality in the wake of the incidents of sexual abuses on New Year’s Eve in Cologne involving men from the Middle-East and elicited strong criticisms by Western intellectuals for peddling “well-worn Orientalist cliches.”
“The Daoud Affair” by Adam Shatz courtesy of the London Review of Books
The second link takes you to a piece from three years ago which explores Camus’ much-criticised political stance towards Algeria’s independence movement while at the same time provides a potted history the North African country’s struggle for independence and the role French intellectuals played in the process.
“The Colonist of Good Will: On Albert Camus” by Thomas Meaney courtesy of The Nation
“Mama is still alive today.” Kamel Daoud’s reversal of the legendary opening sentence of Camus’ The Outsider, “My mother died today” – sets the tone of what the Algerian author wants to achieve. It is a retelling of the canonical work of French existentialism but from the opposite viewpoint: The perspective of the nameless Arab, infamously killed by Camus’ anti-hero, Meursault, on a deserted beach for apparently no good reason.
There is a minor tradition of re-imagining great works of literature through its lesser characters, for example Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a prequel to Jane Eyre, telling the story Mr Rochester’s Jamaican wife who is ostracised by her husband because of her Creole heritage. The Meursault Investigation firmly sits within this post-colonial endeavour of giving voice to the marginalized. Continue reading “A Stranger in His Own Land – “The Mersault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud”