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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Calligraphers' Night

Yasmine Ghata

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To purchase The Calligraphers' Night

Title: The Calligraphers' Night
Author: Yasmine Ghata
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Calligraphers' Night - US
The Calligraphers' Night - UK
The Calligraphers' Night - Canada
La nuit des calligraphes - Canada
La nuit des calligraphes - French
Die Nacht der Kalligraphen - German
  • French title: La nuit des calligraphes
  • Translated by Andrew Brown

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Our Assessment:

B+ : elegant life-sketch

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 2/12/2006 Maureen Freely
NZZ A 15/5/2007 Monika Carbe
TLS . 15/12/2006 Sameer Rahim
Die Welt . 3/3/2007 Hendrik Werner

  Review Consensus:

  Most, if not all, very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nothing appears to have been lost in translation: Andrew Brown stays so close to the soul of each sentence that I am going to forgive him for implying that the Bosphorus is a river, just as I am going to forgive Ghata for forgetting the first world war. She is an extraordinary writer whose force cannot be undone even by an oversight of that magnitude. This, her first novel, has won several prizes in France, and it is sure to win more as it enters other languages. Her chief selling-point will be what some have called her oblique relation to the current east-west debate. That is to ignore the passion with which she defies its terms." - Maureen Freely, The Guardian

  • "Thema ist der Verfall einer aussterbenden Kultur. Es ist ein Abgesang, der in einem bewundernswert eleganten Stil geschildert wird, mit einer Liebe zum Detail, die dem Handwerk der Kalligrafie "und ihrer hübschen Gefährtin, der Buchmalerei", entspricht. Wie eine kunstvolle Komposition wirkt die Biografie der Kalligrafin" - Monika Carbe, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Yet the problem with The Calligraphers' Night is its lack of intricacy. A text that fills just 126 pages doesn't allow itself to linger in places we might want to know more about, such as the artists' studio or 1920s Istanbul. The novel's structure is a problem, too: the switch to the epistolary mode is abrupt and does not perfectly interlace with the first half of the book. (…) The novel's material is fascinating, but its execution required a surer hand." - Sameer Rahim, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Ghata, Französin mit orientalischen Wurzeln, zeichnet ein filigranes Psychogramm ihrer Großmutter, die den Aufbruch der Türkei in die Moderne als eine der wenigen Kalligraphinnen miterlebte. Ein in jeder Hinsicht schön geschriebenes Buch." - Hendrik Werner, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In The Calligraphers' Night Rikkat Kunt tells the story of her life -- and career as a calligrapher --, beginning with her death:

     I passed away on 26th April 1986, at the the age of eighty-three.
       While the story does move more or less chronologically, what she had achieved is integral to all of it, her identity found first and foremost in her art, even as it took a while before she fully realised her identity as a calligrapher.
       She was born in 1903, and was in her mid-twenties when Kemal Atatürk replaced the Arabic script in which Turkish was written until then with a slightly modified version of the Latin alphabet -- a drastic change, even in a society where literacy rates were still fairly low. The art of calligraphy was also affected by the change, shunted aside in the face of modernity (a transition and contrast Ghata could have done more with). Ghata does do a particularly nice job of describing the old calligraphers that Rikkat served and their (now) fairly isolated world.
       Rikkat is married off, but it's not an ideal match. The pull of calligraphy is too strong, and though Rikkat does not immediately follow her heart when she enters a competition in 1936 -- a competition that was: "a milestone for a whole generation of calligraphers" -- her destiny can not be denied.
       Rikkat is a teacher, mother, wife (though not a very successful one, even the second time around), but her obsession with her art dominates her life. It is a constant, and something both within her control and allowing her great freedom. Ghata presents Rikkat's life-story in an appealing way -- the sacrifices, the complicated family life, her relationships with her children --, while there's always the irresistible pull of her art. Meanwhile, the world around her is also changing, the family faced with choices such as whether or not to tear down their old home and allow a bigger building to be put up in its place.
       The Calligraphers' Night is a biographical novel, based on the life of the author's grandmother, and at times there's a feel of reluctance to it, as if Ghata wasn't quite ready to take the rich material and build on it as much as she could have; the narrative has the compactness of a story, while what she has to relate could easily have filled a considerably longer novel. Nevertheless, it's an appealing evocation of a craft and an old world within a changing new one, as well as good story (or at least part of a story) of a Turkish family in the 20th century -- all in a style that tries to emulate calligraphy itself.

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The Calligraphers' Night: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmine Ghata was born in 1975. She is the daughter of writer Vénus Khoury-Ghata.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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