MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Two newly published works of fiction take us into the minds and lives of warriors. They are the "Age of Orphans," by Laleh Khadivi, and "The Siege," Ismail Kadare. Alan Cheuse has this review.
ALAN CHEUSE: It's not every day that we find a novel that takes us into the hearts and minds of the Kurds, whose national fable has them descended from the wreckage of Noah's Ark. In the "Age of Orphans," Laleh Khadivi's first novel, we meet one young Kurdish boy, Reza Khourdi, as he comes to be called. He's orphaned in the early 1920s when his father is killed in battle with the Shah's army, and he's taken captive by the Iranian military and educated in army schools. As Reza, a good soldier rises in the ranks, we get to see a lot of the people around him - his fellow soldiers, Iranian officers, the woman from Tehran he makes his wife, his seven-year-old daughter, even farmers and women in urban brothels.
Alas, the prose about everyone else in the novel gives us more sense of life than the writing about the central figure - the good soldier, Reza. He remains a cipher really, which makes the novel ultimately rather empty and leaves the reader somewhat disappointed. When you pick up Ismail Kadare's "The Siege," the novel by the Albanian master novelist, you notice the immediate electricity in its pages emanating from the writer's deep understanding of characters who lived, as the book would have it, 500 years ago.
"The Siege" itself has a long history. Published in Albania in 1970, then translated into French and published in Paris in 1994, and now translated into English by David Bellos, Ismail Kadare's novel was a long time coming to our bookstores but it's well worth the wait. One of the major characters is war-weary Tursun Pasha, the Ottoman Turk commander-in-chief who leads his 40,000 plus army against a Christian citadel sequestered in the Albanian Alps in a campaign on which his future depends. And there is Celebi, the chronicler, in his first war, whose task is to record the glory of the Turkish army's victory. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: English translations were published in 1974 and 1980.]
Here's a war novel for military buffs and pacifists alike. It tells of war's truths, its miseries, futilities and glories and takes all this to a higher level of understanding about east and west, Islam against Christianity, truth versus illusion on both sides of the parapets.
BLOCK: They are the "Age of Orphans," by Laleh Khadivi, and "The Siege," by Ismail Kadare. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. He teaches writing at George Mason University.
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