Posts Tagged Anne Murphy

‘Skeena: a work of art’ by Anne Murphy

April 10, 2011

I feel as if I have been consumed by this novel; this is the most powerful effect, I think, of writing, when it grips you and does not let go. Skeena has done this to me. It is a beautiful and in some ways frightening thing, that kind of power of words.

What do we find in this novel? It is a portrait not just of a woman, but of many of the most intimate and beautiful, the closest and most terrible, parts of our humanity.

This book tells us of the specificity of Pakistan, of being a woman in Pakistan, and of the politics that have shaped the country since independence in 1947. And the continuing legacy of colonial occupation, and the ongoing intervention of global powers in the making and unmaking of the region. Bit it also speaks to the most general features of the Human Condition. It is thus deeply particular, and deeply humanist, like all real works of art. And I think this is that, one that will not only make its mark in Punjabi—in India and in Pakistan and in Canada—but in its English form, in these countries and farther afield.

The book tells us of religion, of its limits, but its deep and abiding humanity, that draws us together. It’s portrait of religion is thus complex: the politics that govern religion and how it is used as a means for control. But also of the beauty of the festival, and the joyful abandon of sufi celebration, dance, music, and poetry. It speaks of that terrible violence that is found in religion, as religious minorities are persecuted in different contexts—the novel is absolutely clear on this, too, as a feature of our lives as humans; there is no position of easy comfort here. The narrative voice is as critical of bias and oppression as practiced by her own class and her own family as she is critical of others. And thus it is deeply humanist, exploring these things terrible and beautiful that bring us together and tear us apart. It is perhaps because of this honesty, this simple truth-telling that makes the portrait of that other thing that also joins us, patriarchy, so compelling. Women, like men—and indeed, sometimes more women than men, in the intimate locations of patriarchy’s working—perpetrate and exploit this form of domination, deeply imbedded within the structures of love and proximity that bring meaning, also, to our lives. Thus our narrator tells us of how “both of my families dealt me the same card of dependence.” Her husband and mother-in-law, she tells us, did so with contempt. Her mother and brother, with love. But, it was the same card “that makes someone spend their life fulfilling other people’s wishes. Whoever gave me this card knew it and was also a beneficiary in some way.” (162-3).

Through it we see the enactment of power, and its connection to intimacy, how it is woven through our relationships and into our beings.

We see control. Restraint. The disciplining of the self by the daughter, for the daughter, and for service. Thus her mother tells her that “youth is a mare without restraint… you need to develop restraint for your own good” (67). As a seven year old, she is told not to throw “her feet on the floor like a donkey” (29), She tells us “I lift my right foot from the ground and place it, noiselessly, a foot ahead of me. Then I pick up my left foot and place it ahead of the right foot.” (30). Walking carefully, disciplined. Cultivated to internalize in her walk, in her very being, the meaning and action of service and restraint. When she was young, she was told that “education is the jewelry of a woman”; as she aged, “now education was not the jewelry but an imitation jewel in a cap made up entirely of diamonds of various household chores.” (108).

This is that control is tied to the intimate, but intimacy in this book cannot be subsumed within the workings of power. It is palpable and real, and it draws us in. It is this same seven-year-old’s hands that her mother says “have the healing touch” (28), revealing the beautiful affection, closeness, of mother and daughter. These hands massage, touch and bring pleasure, bring warmth. I think this book is so successful because of its celebration of such intimacy, of the moments of humanity that we all seek out, that sustains us all.

And amidst the violence portrayed, its intimacy, we find the learning of a new way of being, a new language. The ending of the book, with its allusion to suicide, and its reaching past it, this moving through and past, reminds me of that moment that many reach, to speak this language:

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them—
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we hae to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disentrall ourselves,
bestow ourselves to silence, or a severer listening,
cleansed of oratory, formulats, choruses, laments,
static crowding the wires.
We cut the wires, find ourselves in free-fall,
as if our true home were the undimensional
solitudes, the rift in the Great Nebula,.
No one who survives to speak new language
has avoided this:
the cutting-away of an old force that held
her rooted to an old ground, the pitch of
utter loneliness where she herself and all
creation seem equally dispersed, weightless…
Adrienne Rich

Or another poem, by Lucille Clifton, that speaks so beautifully to the final moments of this novel:

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Presented at ‘Skeena’ Book Launch in Vancouver, April 10/2011

Anne Murphy is Assistant Professor and Chair of Punjabi Language, Literature, and Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC).


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Secularism is at the center of ‘Skeena’

Fauzia Rafique

At the launch of Skeena in Surrey (Punjabi editions) and Vancouver (English edition) earlier this month, guest speakers said this:

‘You have written a first class novel about life for Muslim women in Pakistan, and later in a new land. You have given your readers an unprecedented view of life behind the veil as Skeena’s story unfolds. This beautifully crafted book made me sad, but it also made me smile. I am in awe of your talent. Skeena deserves to be a huge hit and if, or when, it does hit the best sellers list, I believe you could become a new literary star in Canada.’
Anthony Dalton
National President, Canadian Authors Association (CAA)

Ajmer Rode, an accomplished BC Author and the 2011 winner of Anad Foundation International Poetry Prize, said that ‘Secularism is at the center of this novel’. He said that though he considers Salman Rushdie to be a great writer, a writer of unequaled imagination and a highly forceful expression, but in terms of challenging/confronting religion, he likes the subtlety of expression in Skeena.

‘This book tells us of the specificity of Pakistan, of being a woman in Pakistan,… But it also speaks to the most general features of the Human Condition. It is thus deeply particular, and deeply humanist, like all real works of art. And I think this is that, one that will not only make its mark in Punjabi—in India and in Pakistan and in Canada—but in its English form, in these countries and farther afield.’
Anne Murphy
Chair of Punjabi Language, Literature, and Sikh Studies, University of British Columbia (UBC)

‘In this post 911 world we need more work like this to help us all understand from the inside of people’s mental frameworks—how are we all similar as human beings and how do we differ? With CNN, CanWest Global and the most of the rabid anti-Islamic media telling us lies about how Muslims live, this kind of book speaks to us urgently about understanding, solidarity and building a better world.’
Farah Shroff
UBC, Medical School

‘In reality this novel is a political and revolutionary novel in it’s essence’
Sadhu Binning
Poet/Author, Founder/Director of Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA)

Skeena is the story of a Muslim Canadian woman spanning thirty years of her life where she explores her changing environments, religious and cultural influences, and intimate relationships. Told by Skeena herself, it is a rare glimpse into the mind and perspectives of a Muslim woman. With the utter simplicity of style and expression, and a plot immersed in gripping realities, Fauzia has created a novel that is hard to put down even when it explodes some deep-rooted myths.

Reviews and updates on Skeena

Fauzia Rafiq is a Vancouver-based South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry. Her English and Punjabi writings have been published in Canada, Pakistan, and on the web. Print titles include the Punjabi publication of Skeena (Lahore 2007, Surrey 2011) and an anthology Aurat Durbar: The Court of Women: Writings by Women of South Asian Origin (Sumach Press, Toronto 1995). A selection of her English and Punjabi poetry, Passion-Fruit/Tahnget-Phal will be out 2011.

Order Skeena Online

Contact Libros Libertad
Call 1-604-838-8796

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‘Skeena’ Book Launch in Vancouver, April 10/2011

‘Skeena’ English edition launch in Vancouver
April 10
2 – 4 PM
Hellenic Community Centre

4500 Arbutus Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6J 4A2
Tel: 604-266-7148

Book Launch ‘Vernal Equinox’
Poetry Reading by Manolis
Book Launch ‘Skeena’
Reading by Fauzia Rafique
Guest Speakers on ‘Skeena’
Anthony Dalton
Anne Murphy
Indira Prahst
Farah Mahrukh Coomi Shroff
Sunera Thobani
Event Host
Valerie B.-Taylor

‘Skeena’ is published by Libros Libertad, Surrey BC

The Punjabi Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi (Perso-Arabic script) editions of ‘Skeena’ will also be available at the launch.

Anthony Dalton
Update: A Best Seller On our Hands:’Skeena’
Anthony Dalton is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Fellow of the Explorers Club. He is also National President of the Canadian Authors Association. The author of eleven non-fiction books on exploration and marine subjects, Anthony is a former professional expedition leader with years of experience in the Sahara, the deserts of the Middle East and in the Arctic. Anthony has stayed and traveled in South Asia, and is in the process of writing a novel based in Bangla Desh.
He is an Author, Public speaker, CAA National President, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Fellow of the Explorers Club; and, the Patron of Powell River Writers Conference
Anthony’s latest books are ‘Polar Bears’ (Heritage House), and ‘Arctic Naturalist’ (Dundurn Press).

Update: ‘Secularism is at the Center of Skeena’, April 29 press release by Libros Libertad
Manolis was born in the small village Kolibari west of Chania on the Greek island of Crete in 1947. At a young age, his family moved to Athens where he was educated. After serving in the armed forces for a couple of years, he emigrated to Vancouver in 1973.
After working as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker in Canada, he now lives in White Rock where he spends his time writing, gardening, and traveling.
He has written three novels, over ten collections of poetry, and has published short fiction and non fiction in Greek and in English.
Toward the end of 2006 he founded Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company in Surrey BC with the goal of publishing literary books.
Manolis will present readings from his new collection of poetry ‘Vernal Equinox’ (Ekstasis Editions, 2011), and from his translated work of ‘Yannis Ritsos – Poems’ (Libros Libertad, 2010)

Anne Murphy
Update: Skeena, a Work of Art
Anne Murphy is Assistant Professor and Chair of Punjabi Language, Literature, and Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University’s Department of Religion and previously taught in the Religious Studies and Historical Studies Concentrations at The New School in New York City. Her research interests focus on the historical formation of religious communities in Punjab and northern South Asia, with particular but not exclusive attention to the Sikh tradition. She recently completed a book manuscript entitled Objects of Memory: Material Culture and the Representation of Sikh Pasts, which focuses on the construction of Sikh memory and historical consciousness around material representations and religious sites from the eighteenth century to the present. Other research interests concern modern Punjabi literature and the historical formations of social service or “seva” within Sikh tradition. She conducted research on the latter topic as a Senior Fellow with the American Institute of Indian Studies in 2009-2010, and recently received a grant for the project from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Indira Prahst
Indira Prahst is a full time professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at LangaraCollege. She is involved in research on youth violence, racism, human rights issues and violence against women. Prahst won the award for outstanding woman in culture from The Burns Bog awards, and is a recipient of the Langara College Leadership of Excellence Award. Prahst engages the community through her regular columns in Asian Journal and is also a host of “Asian Pulse TV.” Prahst sits on various committees including: Vice Chair of the Multicultural Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, heads the research team on alienation and gangs with the Acting Together Community University Research Alliance (SSHHRC-CURA) Project on youth and gang violence and is a member of South Asian Film Education Society.

Fauzia Rafique
Fauzia is a South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry. Her English and Punjabi writings have been published in Canada, Pakistan, and on the Web. Print titles include novel ‘Skeena’ (Punjabi, Lahore 2007) and anthology ‘Aurat Durbar’ (English, Toronto 1995).
She maintains sites and blogs on Punjabi literature and art, ‘honour-killings’, blasphemy laws, and the environment.
A selection of her English and Punjabi poetry ‘Passion-Fruit/Tahnget-Phal’ is due to come out in 2011.
Fauzia will read from the Punjabi edition of her novel ‘Skeena’.

Farah Mahrukh Coomi Shroff
Update: Skeena by Fauzia Rafique
Farah’s name, in Arabic and Farsi, means joy. She finds joy in:
•her children, partner, friends and family;
•dance, yoga, movement, stillness
•reading, writing, thinking
•playing, being in nature
•exploring the world, particularly Asia, Latin America and the Middle East
•being part of social justice movements
•much more
Mahrukh is her mother’s name and she officially placed this as her middle name at age 8, after learning about the birds and the bees. In gratitude to one of her grandmothers, who is about to complete 101 years, her second middle name is Coomi. Her last name is her lasting tribute to her wonderful dad.
A Kenyan-born Parsi, her mother is from Mumbai and her father from Karachi; she embraces her South Asianness as fully as her Persian heritage. She loves Hafiz, Sanaii, Atar, Rumi and other poets, partly for the yogic perspectives which are embodied in their words, bridging South Asia and Persia.
She lives on beautiful unceded Musqueum land where she teaches at UBC in the Medical School, carries out research in public health and moves and shakes as much as she can.

Valerie B.-Taylor
Update: ‘A Page Turner From Beginning To End, novel Skeena’
Valerie is a writer, performer and a cultural activist. She has won various awards and competitions for her writings, performances and video productions.
She is the Coordinator of both New Westminster Writers Group and Renaissance Books Writers Group.
At this time, she is working on a romance novel, and coordinating and editing an anthology of writings of of over fifteen writers for New West Writers Group.

Sunera Thobani
Sunera Thobani teaches in the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is also the Director of the RAGA Centre. Sunera is a past-President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Canada’s then largest feminist organization.
Author of ‘Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada’, published by the University of Toronto Press (2007).
Co-editor of two anthologies ‘Asian Women: Interconnections’ and ‘States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century’.

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