Archive for September, 2015

Al-Andalus: Latest Collection of Narrative Poems

Continuing the style I began with Women at the Well and Land of the Four Quarters, in this collection of narrative poems I give voice in dramatic monologues to the Moriscos, who from 1492 to their final expulsion from Spain in 1609, struggled to preserve their culture and language within a dominant Christian society. Conversion did not spare them from this fate. Some of the characters are historical; some of them imagined and a few are characters taken from Miguel Cervantes’s monumental novel Don Quixote in two parts, which appeared at the time the final solution to the Morisco problem would be implemented.  In history there are many examples of ethnic cleansing; this is but one of them. Because the policy continues around the world today, I was impelled to write about the Moriscos.

In Al-Andalus, I create an English version of the Arabic poetic form called the muwashshah.  Here is one of them in which the Alhambra speaks:

Arabesques and colored tiles tell my tale.Al-Andalus Cover

The vanished Moor built on a grand scale.

 

Songs once sung do not die when done

But linger in the air to arise like the sun.

The silence whirs as if silk is being spun

In graceful script and architectural detail

That Ferdinand and his men dare not assail.

 

Enclosed in alcoves rhythms of the lute

Pulsate accompanied by the plaintive flute.

Banished the kohl-eyed beauty but not mute.

In the Alhambra yet is heard the houri wail

Though her plea to stay is to no avail.

 

The silence holds sad melody like a bee

Preserved in amber, its buzz in quiet key

Resounds beyond the present century.

Those who came before leave a pollen trail

Though their time was filled with constant travail.

 

My name corrupts the Arabic word for red

That came out as Alhambra when it’s said

By Spaniards drinking of our fountainhead.

Within these halls although my voice be frail

Those well-tuned will hear a whispered tale.

 

Carlos the King spent a six-month honeymoon

Ensconced in my walls, like a girl in a swoon

Applauding the dances to tambourine tune.

Granada, tu tierra está llena de lindas mujeres

Is the Spanish song my walls echo nowadays.

In 1492 the Spanish Jews were first given the royal ultimatum to either convert to Christianity or suffer forced deportation. In 1523, Carlos V reneged on the terms of the 1492 surrender, which granted religious and cultural freedom to the Moslems of Granada, serving them the same ultimatum the Jews had received. Mass baptisms of the Moors ensued. The prohibitions against wearing Moorish clothing, practicing Islamic customs and speaking Arabic were suspended for forty years, purportedly to allow for cultural and religious assimilation. Under Philip II the mandates were re-imposed resulting in the rebellion of the Moriscos in the War of the Alpujarras 1568-1570. After the defeat of the Moriscos, Philip ordered the dispersal of the surviving Moriscos to other regions of Spain—a strategy to prevent a concentration of Moriscos that would be capable of armed revolt again. Throughout the sixteenth century the converted Moriscos were suspect. Religious and secular leaders feared they were a third column within the country conspiring with the Ottoman Empire to reconquer Spain for the Islamic world. After decades of debate and suspicion, Philip III ordered the final expulsion of Spain’s Moriscos in 1609. Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra witnessed this process. Indeed, he was writing the second half of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha during this removal and must have seen caravans of Moors under guard being marched to the sea ports for transport to North Africa.

In recent history Moslems have returned to Spain. They arrive in boats from North Africa. It remains to be seen whether in this century the efforts at peaceful co-existence will succeed. Can an amalgamation of cultures result?

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Ideas Behind My Novel Giselle

Giselle is a different kind of story about a murderess who for a time stifles remorse for the terrible crime she has committed and successfully eludes arrest. I sought to explore two main ideas that persisted in my mind from my study of the metaphysical work A Course in Miracles, which purports to be a spiritual path to inner peace. An individual possessed by a horrendous guilt cannot achieve inner peace; neither can an individual obsessed with an insatiable desire for revenge. Justice in the common way of the world connotes with vengeance. In A Course no human being can render justice or even know what justice means, because that requires unimpaired knowledge and the ability to know everything, clearly not humanly possible. Healing, according to A Course, is attainable only through atonement, or forgiveness, essentially interchangeable terms.  Furthermore, it puts forth the notion that every attack is a cry for love and to respond to attack with counterattack perpetuates the illusion of separation.

Giselle kills her lover and escapes from the scene of the crime in Chicago to live a peaceful life in Canada, but slowly through experience of nature and a loving small mountain community she yearns for the inner peace that acknowledgement of her horrible crime will bestow. A mauling by a bear provides the catalyst for Giselle to unmask herself. She devises a plan to reveal to the mother and the fiancée of the murdered man that she is the killer and to submit herself to whatever retribution the two other women will demand.  While examining whether justice is humanly possible, I wanted to juxtapose that forgiveness is the only route to so-called “closure” for victims of crime. The path of vengeance is a self-destructive death trap and paves the way to an inner hell. Under the right circumstances, it is conceivable that however righteous a person considers himself to be, he could yield the knife that kills another person.  The soldier does that in war, because it is murder that the state legitimates.

Granted, my novels are not plot-driven or propelled by non-stop action-packed scenes.  Psychological exploration drives my novels. I am more interested in character development, intricacies of the personality, and spiritual depths than weaving a complex, suspenseful plot. That spells doom for an author aspiring to write a bestseller. I have enjoyed writing my novels too much to let that dissuade me. I give this background on Giselle to forewarn readers who prefer plot over character and to invite other readers more interested in psychological and spiritual themes to read it.

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

This summer I read twice this giant of a novel first published in 1983. One reading cannot release a fraction of its rich meanings. I come away and hold this novel at arm’s length and gasp that this is one of the most significant works of American literature of the latter twentieth century. Furthermore, it represents American magical realism at its finest.  Helprin encompasses Greek, European, Native-American and Biblical mythology in his story of pilgrim characters who converge upon New York City in four directions: “The east gate was that of acceptance of responsibility, the south gate that of the desire to explore, the west gate that of devotion to beauty, and the north gate that of selfless love.”  The city assumes symbolical and mythic proportions exuding in its industrial power, the national ethos. Peter Lake, arrives like Moses in his reed boat on the New Jersey shore, and his coming of age emerges as a journey across the bay into New York’s underbelly.

Helprin accomplishes so much in Winter’s Tale, blending history mainly in the first decades of the twentieth century, fantasy, and meditation on time and space. His description of bridges and bridge-building are evocative of Walt Whitman and Hart Crane, for clearly he draws extensively upon a great fund of both American and world literature. The role of winter cannot be ignored. The motif of snow, ice, and cold suffuses the story. Helprin writes: “Winter, it was said, was the season in which time was superconductive–the season when a brittle world might shatter in the face of astonishing events, later to reform in a new body as solid and smooth as young transparent ice.”

Another motif that cannot be neglected is the quest for the perfect city of justice. Hardesty Marratta sets out from San Francisco to find such a city. The list is long of the symbols that Helprin borrows from mythology to advance his American motif. The white horse Athansor evocative of Pegasus, the island in the Lake of the Coheeries like something from the Arthurian legend, Beverley as the beautiful lady of the lake, and Marratta’s choice of the mystical salver are only a few.

Helprin is suggesting that interconnectedness permeates the universe. In the grand scope of events, nothing is random. Not even random evil. Crime and violence have a place in the cycle of nature. In fact, even New York City composed of concrete and steel, the great industrial giant it is with its Penn Station, seemingly the hub of transportation and commerce, is part of the natural world and built from the minerals of the earth. Upon the roof of New York’s Grand Central Station is a painting of the constellations, the constellations that Beverley probes upon her roof-top bed and the interstellar space into which Athansor disappears.  Study the pairs of lovers, too, in this novel.

The gold in this book is too much to mine in a short peek at what it offers. Awestruck, I feel inadequate to the task and must return to a third reading. I predict this novel will endure in the pantheon of great American fiction. I invite you to read this book and add your comments. A rich discussion could follow.