Learning the Easiest Language in the World – Esperanto

Esperanto Flag

Hodiaŭ, mi skribos pri unu el la plej facilaj lingvoj por lerni, Esperanto

Less than 0.03% of all people would be able to understand what I just wrote in Esperanto.

If you are one of them, great. But, if not, read on.

You see, although it would look like Greek to anyone, Esperanto is surprisingly easy.

But first, let me assure that I did not write that first line. That was all Google Translate. Despite this, I am quite competently fluent at the language to be able to understand it when it is written, or spoken (slowly).

This is what the phrase means: Today, I’ll be writing about one of the most easy languages to learn, Esperanto

First, the history of Esperanto

Esperanto is possibly the largest artificially constructed language in the world. It was created in the late 1800s by a Polish man who sought to create a means through which different cultures could interact with ease. He also sought to spread acceptance of diversity through his creation. Quite simply, he wanted to create an international language to foster unity.

He did this by amalgamating the languages of Europe: French, Polish, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian, and a whole host of other languages.

Today, the language is spoken by about 350 native speakers, and by about over 2 million second level speakers.

Certainly, its creator’s ideals have not been achieved. Despite that, the language has many benefits, making it a useful task to gain fluency in it.

Learning Esperanto, and its benefits

Learning Esperanto

This is quite possibly the best part of the language – it is perhaps the easiest language to learn in the world. To put this into perspective, it took Leo Tolstoy about three or four hours to achieve fluency in Esperanto, or so he claimed.

Now, having attempted to learn Esperanto through the Duolingo app on my phone, I don’t quite believe what Tolstoy said. I have been learning it for an hour each day for over a month now and I am not yet fluent.

However, perhaps there is some truth to Tolstoy’s words. You see, because Esperanto is constructed using European languages, simply knowing any European language means that you will have a great advantage when learning Esperanto. In addition, because of its artificial nature, Esperanto has not come to have the nuances of other languages. What I mean by this is that every language has grammar and linguistic rules. But, every language also has exceptions to those rules. Since Esperanto is made up, it is made to stick to a very short list of rules, from which there are no deviations.

In addition, while it takes 1000 hours to achieve a standard understanding of Italian, it only takes 150 hours to achieve that in Esperanto.

Because of this, the learning of Esperanto is impossibly simple.

So what are the benefits?

Why would anyone ever consider speaking a language that is understood by less than the population of New Zealand? Surely it has no perks when travelling. And, there isn’t much literature or video material produced in Esperanto.

Well, the pursuit to learn Esperanto for many is not just to learn Esperanto. Instead, it is seen as an easy stepping-stone to the pursuit of fluency in other languages.

To put this into perspective, a controlled group of students who studied Esperanto for one year and then French for three years achieved a greater level of fluency in French than another controlled group of students who studied French for four years only.

Various studies have shown that education in Esperanto expedited education in other languages.

So why am I learning Esperanto?

Esperanto Communication

I’m sure you have guessed this, but I am learning Esperanto so that I can learn other languages.

You see, I am fluent in both English and Afrikaans. Afrikaans, much like Esperanto, is influenced by many European languages. These include English, French, German, and most notable, Dutch. It has often been called low Dutch.

Because of this, and my education in Esperanto, I will be well equipped to learn Dutch. And then to learn German. And then French, and so on. Essentially, it will help me attain fluency in various languages. This is an aspect which I feel is vital not only for my historical research, but also for my travels, and for understanding other cultures.

So, like its creator envisaged, many, like me, are using it to broaden diversity and ease communication.

It is a pursuit which I would encourage others to attempt.

Simply head to Duolingo now, and hopefully you’ll be fluent in a few hours.

Arrowood – A Haunting Tale of Accidental Deaths and Charming Period Mansions

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Yesterday, I wrote about The Historian – a slow and lengthy read. I also mentioned that I had read a similar book recently. This book is called Arrowood.

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Arrowood by Laura McHugh
Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Like The Historian, I cannot deny that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

It tells the story of Arden Arrowood returning to her childhood home – Arrowood – a large period mansion in the small town of Keokuk in Iowa.

But with the return of her home comes the return of a mystery that has haunted her all her life – the disappearance of her twin sisters when she was just eight. Ever since, her life has never been the same. Constantly moving around the country, her parents divorced, a humanities degree that doesn’t seem to help her, and a disastrous end to an ill-advised relationship.

Arden hopes that her return to the place she once called home will be the return to her life before the disappearance of her sisters.

Instead, their disappearance returns to haunt her, and Arrowood. So, she is propelled into a search for the truth with amateur investigator Josh Kyle. However, the answer is something she never could have imagined, and never could have possibly asked for.

But out of it, she gains not only closure, but the rekindling of old friendships, the start of a budding romance and a way forward from her tumultuous past.

What I didn’t like about it

To be honest, I expected a horror novel. Or rather, a mystery suspense thriller. It was one, but unusually so. Conventionally, novels of such a description do not take long to show the reader some action. So, it came as a surprise when I had finished reading one hundred pages and still had yet to see the exciting and violent confrontations, the amateur sleuthing or the horror of the disappearance of the twins.

To me, that was slightly disappointing. But, not enough to take away a star for my rating of this novel, which I would still give five stars. For, despite the lack of a ‘rush’, the novel kept me going in anticipation of that rush.

Despite how slow the novel went (I’m used to the fast-paced, one-night, Dan Brown thrillers), I thoroughly enjoyed the aspects that it was laden with.

So here’s what I loved about it

First of all, McHugh really knew what she was writing about when she described the town of Keokuk. Coupled with the vivid nostalgia that Arden conveys to the reader – the food, the drinks, the festivals, the experiences – the description that McHugh conveyed to my mind was exactly in keeping with what I read and saw of the town on Google.

In addition, I really loved the focus that McHugh placed on the opulent lifestyle of the past and how she contrasted it with the decaying lifestyle of the present. She did so through masterful descriptions of the styles of various period mansions around the town as well as with the frequent mention of how history graced Arrowood itself – the mouldings, the rich wallpaper, the panelled wood, the massive rooms, the antique furniture, even the noisy pipes. As someone who appreciates the old charm of such homes, it was a pleasure to see what a heavy influence the character of Arrowood had on Arden.

Furthermore, McHugh placed subtle clues of the hidden truth all through the novel. This was masterfully done with images of the rivers Mississippi and Des Moines, their confluence, water as a central element in Arden’s life, and the frequent floodings of various areas of Arrowood.

Chillingly, she tied in these signs with hair raising scenes that leave you wondering whether or not the missing Arrowood twins – Violet and Tabitha – really do haunt the house. And, there are enough of these well placed scenes to keep the book compelling just as one may think it is getting too boring. It certainly kept me up reading till two thirty in the morning.

And, finally, the end came, and with it, the violent confrontation that I had been waiting for.

In conclusion

Arrowood is definitely a novel that I will revisit. And, Laura McHugh is definitely an author that I will follow.

Despite its pacing, Arrowood had enough to make me love it. And, looking back, the setting was as such, that it could be no other way. With McHugh’s excellent storytelling skills, it is definitely a book that I will give five stars. And, it is definitely a book that I would recommend to others.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – A Fascinating Tale of Scholars, Vampires and History

The Historian

I have read and loved many books since I can remember learning to read. Yet, I have only read a few of those over and over again. These special books, enough to make me read them again, include the whole Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, and, most recently, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Today, I want to write about why the last book is special to me. It is a long book. And, it is undeniably boring. That reminds me, there is another book that I have just read, matching the same description. But, more on that later.

The Historian – An Excruciating Task

The Historian - Cover
The Historian – Cover

When I first read The Historian, I was at a point in my life where I was determined to rekindle my relationship with reading. To do this, I chose a tome of epic proportions – one that would give me many sleepless nights trying to get through it. The Historian promised Dan Brown proportions of marvellous plot and intricacies.

I was bitterly disappointed in many ways. This 720-page book did not take me many nights to finish. It took me a day. It was not full of exhilarating plot.  To top it off, the book was lengthy and boring.

At the time however, I did not see all of this. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was a perfect rekindling of my literary love affair. The beginning of more sleepless nights, fighting to finish books boring and exciting.

But as I read what I had learned to call my favourite book over and over, I also learned to call it the most excruciating read I ever had to face. It drew me in like an unwise fool each time I began to read in anew, only to spit me back out – lethargic, and wiser, telling myself that I would never subject myself to that torture.

The Historian – Undeniably, a Love Affair

You are most certainly confused by now. I have taken the time to write a lengthy blog post – a review – of a book which I called special. And, I am criticising that same book to unfettered ends.

You see, I have bittersweet thoughts about The Historian. I love it, but I also hate it.

Why do I love The Historian?

There are many things to love about The Historian. It presents a wide myriad of cities, towns, landscapes, and historical climates to the reader. Through Kostova’s brilliant prose, she displays erudition beyond compare. I have never seen another author understand what she has understood so intimately. This includes the cultures of almost every country in Europe, and Turkey, as well as the complex history of those regions from the early 15th century up until the Cold War. She also demonstrated a deep understanding of their foods, languages, and social tendencies. Undeniably brilliant, she has created a tapestry of history, culture, travel, scenic landscapes, monasteries, and let’s not forget, vampires.

So why do I hate The Historian?

But, that tapestry is not smooth and artistic as it seems. Beneath the beautiful prose and stellar description is a rotting that makes the tapestry hard to follow. The 720-page tome is laden with narration from various aspects. An unnamed girl. Her father. Her father’s advisor. And if memory serves me correctly, a few others. And the narration is sewn in quite jarringly through the plot. The reader is constantly switching between the narrators, their letters, descriptions of libraries and monasteries, and examinations of manuscripts.

And while the plot was undeniably motivating – or maybe it was just the challenge of reaching its resolution that motivated me – even when the reading got rough as I stumbled through the beautiful yet discordant descriptions, it came to a crashing halt when the villain, Dracula, was revealed to be no more than an ****SPOILER ALERT**** irritated librarian.

Kostova had kept me reading through the entire tome, enduring the seemingly repeated descriptions of places and things, and somehow keeping track of the complex plot, all in the hope that the resolution would be as exciting as the book description promised. Instead, I was met with a disappointing anticlimax followed by another lengthy resolution.

Was The Historian worth it?

So was The Historian worth it? Was the excruciating read something I would endure once again. Oh yes!

I will always return to The Historian, because even though I know its end, and I suffer through the intricate plot (which I have come to know, almost), it never fails to surprise me with just how masterfully crafted it is.  It is a marvel how Kostova has created such a masterpiece whose only failings are its complexity of plot and anti-climatic resolution.

I do not see myself as someone who only reads for pleasure. Rather, I read to broaden my mind, to learn. And The Historian taught me. It gave me exactly what I had secretly been looking for. A story of the past, moulded into a story of the present, with history, travel, food, and culture intertwined in it. It is certainly not a fast paced read, but I was somehow excited by its boring nature.

I would definitely call it a travel guide. But its a damn good one at that. And, if one is to read a travel guide, why not read one that will expose you to the countries’ places, food, language, and culture while telling a story. Even if that story has a disappointing end.

Kostova has undoubtedly created something that is hard to rival. It has various major flaws, but I am only writing about them here because I must. I do not even think about them when I return to the book.

So, as with any literary novel, many will hate The Historian, but I am sure, that in time, it will be remembered as an unrivalled piece of art.

Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) – the Man who Guarded Europe against the Ottomans

Vlad Tepes Portrait

The Legend of Count Dracula

We’ve all heard of the magnificent tales surrounding Count Dracula, Transylvania and vampires. Most of us have even watched the countless actors portraying him. From Bela Lugosi, to Gary Oldman, to Luke Evans.

The Man Behind the Legend

Vlad Tepes (Dracula) - Nuremberg Pamphlet
Vlad Tepes – Nuremberg Pamphlet, 1488

But few are familiar with the real man behind the legend. This man, although was what one would call a ‘Dracula’, was no Count. Rather, he was the fascinating voivode (prince) of a place called Wallachia (not Transylvania as the popular legends and even animated movies continue to perpetuate).

Regardless of his history, Vlad III went by many names. And, few people understand the subtleties of a sobriquet (a nickname of sorts), and a title. As such, history remembers this gruesome man in many forms. Simply, he was Vlad. Adding to that was his title – Tepes (meaning the Impaler). He even went as Drakulya in his lifetime. But that is where the fact stops and the fiction starts.

In reality, the erroneous name Vlad Dracul, Vlad Dracula, or just Dracula is derived from his father’s sobriquet. His father, Vlad II, was a member of the Order of the Dragon.  Founded by the King of Hungary in 1408, this Order would serve as the legion of Christianity. Its goal was primarily to protect Christians against the Ottoman Empire. Thus Vlad II became known as Vlad Dracula (Dracula meaning dragon) for his association in the Order.

Dracula – the Thorn in the Side of the Ottomans

This is where the confusion is probably from. Vlad III was both the son of Vlad II (the real Dracula) and his successor in the fight against the Ottomans.

Under his rule, Vlad II had placed Wallachia under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. For complex reasons, Vlad III fell into Ottoman captivity, and Vlad II offered homage to the Ottomans. This homage would later continue.

Whatever the reasons, Vlad III eventually returned home, and after complex machinations, ascended to power in Wallachia. This rule of his would not be undisturbed. At times he was the voivode and at other times he wasn’t.

While voivode at some point, Vlad III decided to part with the practice of paying homage to the Ottomans. This led to a complex war characterised by Vlad’s habit of impaling the Ottoman Army on pikes by the thousands.

Here is a chilling image of impalement- just imagine an army of them outside Vlad’s capital at Targoviste:

Example of Impalement done by Dracula

Quite literally, Vlad became a thorn in the side for the Ottomans. A formidable safeguard of the vast Christian expanse of Europe. Impenetrable by the Ottomans in Vlad’s lifetime.

From that, the Legend was Born

Vlad’s chilling practice of impalement is probably what caused the legend to rise. Both blood thirsty, and cold hearted, like the vampire, it would make a convincing tale that has continued to captivate audiences for over a century.

Read my next post on just how compelling a story Dracula helped create.

Can Peace Prevail?

I promised myself that this website would be what I call my ‘author website’ when I created it. I dedicated myself to sharing my literary journey in its entirety. But, today, I come with a very different message. And, heck, I know it’s totally off-topic, but I simply must share it! Yesterday, the world, or the Western World, shook yet again by another act of terror in London. This follows a series of attacks which began with a man driving towards the Palace of Westminster, and with a recent bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Amidst this chaos, especially after last night’s events, I ask myself this: can peace prevail in this world of ours?

My thoughts on this are not just isolated to terrorism. I am taken back to the harsh inequality and inhumane treatment inflicted on the world by colonialism. I am taken back to the subjugation of people of colour. I am taken back to the racism of Apartheid-era South Africa. I am taken back to the murders of two Indian men in a bar in Kansas simply because of the colour of their skin. I am taken back to any of the moments in recent history where one man was thought or shown to be inferior to another because of his race, his creed, his religion, his place of origin. And, I realise through all of this, is that this world is ruled by something very close to racism – but not racism itself. It is ruled by the pride, arrogant feeling of superiority that one group of people have over others. This could be a white supremacist who disregards the rights of a black person. It could also be the cowardly terrorists who show a disregard for freedom and liberty. It could be a politician declaring or implying that all whites are racist (yes, that’s you, Jacob Zuma) or it could be another politician encouraging anti-Islamic sentiments (I won’t say any names here). On that note, I should just declare that Islam, like any other religion, is a religion of peace, and so the answer to terrorism is not an attack on Islam. For more details on the nature of Islam, I refer you to a Ted Talk by Lesley Hazleton (a Jewish personality of great intellect).

Have I (or Lesley Hazleton) convinced you to accept the beliefs of all people, including Muslims? I should hope so, but if I haven’t, here’s my message.

Let us stop blaming groups of people for acts against humanity. Instead, let us unite. Wait, I can hear people screaming ‘close the borders!’, ‘don’t let in immigrants!’, ‘cultures should not be allowed to mix!’, or something else of that sort. If I may, let me stop you there. In terms of diversity, I come from South Africa. Here, I have witnessed first-hand the brilliant capabilities that diversity has. I have witnessed the peace with which the South African melting pot of culture continues to live.

Now, this may not even be enough to convince all the naysayers to accept diversity. But if you take away one message from this blog post, let it be my final plea.

Let us be honest with ourselves, all discrimination of all forms needs to stop! We should not frown on Christians or Muslims or Jews or Hindus. We are all human, and no religion teaches terror. No race teaches terror. We must accept and forgive even those who harm us – this is humanity, and yes we can protect ourselves against terror, but we must never act like the terrorists by attacking people because of their affiliation with any group be it Islam, or the West. I believe that we have forgotten what peace means. We have forgotten what humanity means, and we must rediscover both! I just don’t see why we as humans cannot accept other people who are different from us – is that so wrong?

But I believe that we are just proud to unite, too vain to unite, feel too superior to unite. We always want to be and feel better than someone else. Why can’t we all be our best together? Now I am not a communist if it may sound like I am, but I just think that we should learn to respect difference and then many issues will dissipate, in a time of course.

And yes, vanity and pride are natural characteristics which we all bask in. But, we should not let those feeling make us think that others are wholly lesser than us. We are better in some ways, and they are better in other ways. That is what being human is – being flawed, and being talented in multiple facets. I believe that humanity is the acceptance of that, it is the peace with that. It is when terrorists will respect the sanctity of life. When they will respect the values of liberty and equality. It is when white supremacists or Islamophobes will accept people of colour, or people of different religions, and will allow them to live alongside them. This is what is needed: acceptance, and respect.

Now, I know that I am an idealist, and this will probably never be achieved. In fact, I am sure many readers of this will abandon the post if they haven’t already, but I believe that every change we make – accepting our crimes of the past, recognising how those injustices have shaped the present, and showing humanity to build a better future – will make a difference at the end of the day.

I leave you with that message, and I hope that you take it out and into your life and daily practice.

The Strange Practice of Ottoman Primogeniture

Below was an article from 1909 which has played a vital role in my novel The Monk’s Curse. It pertains to Ottoman primogeniture – or, the succession or inheritance practices. As to its veracity, I cannot comment, but, whether you are interested in that novel or not is irrelevant. Either way, I have decided to make this accessible to all my readers, not just subscribers to The Sandbox, as I believe that inheritance in the Ottoman culture was a fascinating aspect of the Muslim world which still pervades Western understanding today.

The Strange Practices of Ottoman Primogeniture: 

The shocking inheritance practices that still stand tall in the divide between the East and the West, Islam and Christianity, Europe and the Ottoman world.

As the era of Sultan Abdülhamid II comes to a close, we here in the Oxford University’s Faculty of Oriental Studies have undertaken to understand the succession practices that are utilised by the sprawling Ottoman Empire.

At present, His Imperial Majesty, The Sultan Abdülhamid II, Emperor of the Ottomans, Caliph of the Faithful, has been forcibly deposed and replaced by his brother Reshad Efendi as Mehmed V. It is at this moment, after a long, autocratic, and oppressive rule under Abdülhamid II that we analyse how he has been succeeded.

Abdülhamid II has been sultan since 1876, thus presiding over thirty-three long years of decline. His rule has been marked by his autocratic style, despite some modernisation of the Empire. To the layman, it would seem natural that his son would take control of the Sultanate. After all, if His Majesty The King were to die at this moment, English law would dictate that his eldest son, His Royal Highness, George, The Prince of Wales would become the next king. As such, it would be expected for Şehzade Mehmed Selim, Abdülhamid’s eldest son, to become the thirty-fifth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

A scholar of the Orientals, and more specifically of the Ottomans, would recognise this to be false for the Ottomans follow what is called succession based on agnatic seniority. This would effectively mean that the eldest male in the entire dynasty would succeed the previous Sultan. This also meant that no women could ever ascend the throne as Empress in her own right. As such, Reshad Efendi’s ascendance of the throne is most proper in accordance with Ottoman succession practice.

Interestingly enough, this has not always been the case. In fact, this is where the Ottoman Empire differs more substantially to other European monarchies. Most European monarchies have laws in place which dictate succession practices. In contrast, the autocratic style of the Ottomans has ensured that no such fixed law was ever enforced. As such, it was the practice between the fourteenth and the late sixteenth centuries for brothers to fight to the death to succeed their recently deceased or deposed father – survival of the fittest if you will. Later, politics shifted to the harems of the Sultans and the consort who achieved seniority as Chief Consort, or Haseki Sultan, would secure her son’s place as heir apparent. However, such practices often led to fratricide and deep familial divisions. As such, succession by agnatic seniority proved most useful for the Ottomans, eliminating fratricide – mostly – as well as the role of women of the court in politics.

Now, the East (the Ottomans) and the West (Europe and the Americas) have always had matters over which no agreement could be achieved. The succession practices are one such issue. In Britain, it is accepted, generally, for a woman to ascend the throne if no other alternative is available. This is what led to the ascendancy of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The Ottomans have effectively prevented this from happening. Other matters of disagreement pertain to the ruling style of the Sultans – something most characteristic of Abdülhamid’s rule – being autocratic. The West, in moving more toward democracy, frowns upon such methods of governance. Furthermore, the secularism which the Ottomans lack is most pronounced and highly unfavourable to Western nations. Considering His Majesty’s position as head of the Church of England as well as the high Catholic presence in continental Europe, this European attitude can be seen as most hypocritical. It is nevertheless a view that is held firmly. The West vehemently oppose ‘the sick man of Europe’s’ (the Ottoman Empire’s) position at the forefront of the Islamic world, as well as the Sultan’s position as Caliph of Islam.

With so much disagreement, it is thus the hope that the new Sultan will provide some much-needed reform especially after the long and dark shadow which his brother has cast over the entire civilised world for over three decades.

Contributors: Nathaniel John Morrison, Jonathan Humphreys, David Henry Mortimer.

Exclusive Newspaper Article from The Monk’s Curse

In this post, I promised you a sneak peak of The Monk’s Curse. Here it is, the exclusive newspaper article.

The Holy Alliance: Fact or Fiction

By John Stanley

A quiet man, never before seen or heard of, has suddenly emerged on the streets of London creating quite the storm. Jonathan Henry Dalton has been running in the streets of London claiming to be the pretender to the Ottoman Empire – as well as the descendant of its last Sultan – which was dissolved in 1922 (45 years ago). He further claims to have been protected since birth by what he calls The Holy Alliance. From what he has needed protection for 32 years, he fails to mention. However, he gained widespread media attention upon insisting that The Rt Hon. Lord Gardiner, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, listen to his story and take it to Her Majesty’s Government. He forcibly stopped Lord Gardiner while he was on the way into a sitting of the House of Lords at Westminster.

Lord Gardiner chose to get him arrested on the grounds of assault. However, his recent arrest has not deterred Dalton who remains firmly obstinate that his story is veritable. With the public going to town over his story, making wild assumptions, we decided to check the facts about what The Holy Alliance was and who the real pretender to the Ottoman throne is. Here is what we found.

The Holy Alliance was a treaty signed by Russia, Prussia and Austria after Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo. This treaty, signed in Paris in 1815, aimed to restrain revolutionary and secularised sentiments in Europe at a time when France was in a period of political tumult. As such, it actually reaffirmed the divine rights of kings to rule, while firmly establishing a Christian viewpoint. Interestingly enough, Otto von Bismarck tried to reunify the Alliance, but this failed in the late 19th century when Austria and Russia disagreed over issues about the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Ironically, this Alliance was in no way holy, gaining the approval of neither of the ‘divine’ powers at the time (The United Kingdom, the Papal States or the Ottoman Empire). From this, at least one part of Dalton’s story checks out: The Holy Alliance did have something to do with the Ottoman Empire. However, the real Holy Alliance was no secret society dedicated to protecting a pretender. In fact, Dalton asserts that they have protected the Ottoman Sultans since this 13th century. Dalton’s story again does not check out as that was the job of the Janissaries, and The Holy Alliance was only founded in 1815. Furthermore, why would a Christian alliance protect an Islamic emperor?

Dalton furthermore claims that this Alliance is composed of five key groups: the Romanov family, the remnants of an old noble family from Wallachia (an area situated in modern day Romania), the Order of Rasputin, a secret Vatican Council, and the powerful descendants of once illustrious Italian families like the Medici’s.

We decided to further check the facts surround his claims. This is what we uncovered. We went to the head (albeit the disputed head) of the House of Romanov, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich Romanov. This is what he had to say: ‘No, I do not believe that any member of the Romanov family is part of this so-called alliance or any other subversive conspiracy for that matter. The last Romanov’s to be part of the real Holy Alliance are long since dead. Furthermore, I can confidently claim that even the Prince Andrew Andreevich Romanov, another claimant to the headship of our house, whom I may not agree with much on, is undoubtedly not affiliated with this conspiracy. I firmly believe that we should not encourage this man who I advise should be committed to an institution to treat his lunacy.’

We went doing our own research, trying to find the remnants of the Wallachian nobility. However, with the Romanian monarchy dissolved after King Michael’s abdication in 1942, we seriously doubt that any nobility has managed to survive the onslaught of the Red Army. As such, with the East being almost impenetrable, we could not uncover any fact to substantiate Dalton’s claim. In addition, we were not able to go to the USSR (as Russia was where the monk, Grigori Rasputin was from) but the history that is accepted by most historians, including that of the top historian of the subject – David Henry Mortimer – asserts that no order called the Order of Rasputin has ever been known to exist.

Penultimately, we analysed a release made by the Vatican. The senior Vatican spokesperson remained firm that no secret council existed according to the knowledge of the Pope, Paul VI. It was furthermore declared that the leader of the world’s Catholic adherents was certainly aware of all organisation claiming allegiance or suzerainty under the Holy See. Failing to mention The Holy Alliance, or any secret council, in any of the Vatican’s documents or press releases, we have deduced that, much like the rest of his story, this is a fallacy on Dalton’s part probably induced by the ‘lunacy’ of which the Romanov head spoke.

Finally, we investigated the last claim. The House of Medici is known to have fallen in 1737 with its last head being the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone. This undoubtedly absolves Dalton’s story of any fact.

However, we decided to look at exactly what happened to the last Ottoman Sultan, from whom Dalton claims descent. He was called Mehmed VI. Mehmed was exiled after the Empire was abolished in the November of 1922. He fled to Malta and later to the Italian Riviera. He died in 1926. His son, Prince Şehzade Mehmed Ertuğrul Efendi, went into exile with him and died without child. Although other lines of succession have since taken pre-eminence, Dalton claims descent from the last Sultan, which, from our research is proven impossible.

The verdict – everything that Dalton claims is indeed fiction, and as such, he is guilty of assaulting Lord Gardiner.

It proved to be a good conspiracy over which to obsess – at least while it lasted.

The Grand Reveal: More on The Monk’s Curse

Literary Reinvention - The Monk's Curse Banner

Presenting: The Monk’s Curse

From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to St Petersburg and Istanbul, The Monk’s Curse will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.

A few weeks, or was it months, ago, I announced here that I would be redefining my online literary persona. In doing so, I redesigned my website, unpublished all my books, and immediately began working on The Monk’s Curse.

Now, in the beginning, I did not reveal much. To be precise, this is what I said:

One of the things that have sparked this reinvention was the conception of The Monk’s Curse. I can’t say much about it – the secrets will soon be available in The Sandbox – but I describe it as the riveting story of a boy, a prophecy, and a monk. It’s a story where East meets West and the Islamic Caliphate meets Christendom. Oh no, I have said too much! What I can say is that while writing this novel I have made up the most outrageous of fake histories, the evilest and naive of characters and the most scholarly prose. You won’t find too many action scenes in this novel. It is a political masterpiece with constant machinations going on behind the scenes. If you are anyhow interested in scholarly and political mysteries, keep your eye out for this book.

But, here’s more:

Basically, all I knew when I began writing was what I had told you all. There would be a boy, a monk’s curse (the prophecy), and a whole host of complex characters.

But, as I began to write it, I noticed that I was focussing less on the monk’s curse and more on where the plot was taking me. To be precise, I noticed that my characters were leading my fingers as they typed. Well, what I mean to say is that my words were being guided by the story itself, and not my mind. Now, to seasoned authors, or readers who follow authors closely, this idea would seem quite a cliche. I suppose it is, but I also suppose is that that is what creates a great story.

In the beginning

So, when I began, there was a curse, a boy affected by the curse, and a few secret societies manoeuvring for control of the boy and for supremacy. That was the first chapter.

In the second chapter

Here is where I discovered how intricate the story would become. A minor member of one of the secret societies addresses his masters after committing certain acts. His masters are furious and order him to cease the carrying out of those acts. This is where the antagonist is born – an antagonist I didn’t even know I wanted.

After that

It gets better. I started writing about characters whom I had identified as the ‘good guys’, but as if under a monk’s curse I encountered confusion, in myself and in my characters. I could no longer tell who was good and who was bad. Who could the boy trust? Who could we, the readers, trust?

And this all went on and on. Soon, I started a habit which I had always read about but had resigned as unnecessary: the habit of sporadic note taking. I had to do this because with the twists came brilliant new ideas: ideas of dialogue, assassinations and hidden histories. Right now, I have about ten memos, and I can’t even remember what they relate to. Alas, the note taking tip doesn’t work!

But, why am I telling you all of this?

Readers often don’t care about the creative process, and I must admit, neither do I. I couldn’t care less how J.K. Rowling or J.R.R Tolkien conceived their epics. However, I am telling you all of this, because I wish to pass on one simple message. If this story can surprise me, imagine how it will surprise you. I love to read books that keep me on the edge of my seat, and I can promise you that this one will.

From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to St Petersburg and Istanbul, this novel will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.

If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself in The Sandbox, where I have revealed an exclusive newspaper article that is pivotal to the story. To access The Sandbox, remember to subscribe to my newsletter.

Dido Belle: England’s Eighteenth-Century African Enigma

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle

The Story of England’s First Black Aristocrat: Dido Elizabeth Belle

Would you believe it if I told you that there existed a black aristocrat in eighteenth-century England? No, of course you wouldn’t because this seeming conundrum was certainly not allowed to happen. Even more perplexing was that she, Dido Elizabeth Belle, was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay – son of Sir Alexander Lindsay, 3rd Baronet – and great-niece of William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice for 32 years. Her blood was certainly noble, at least in the view of an English aristocrat assessing her father’s genealogy. However, look at her mother’s genealogy and she was no more than the daughter of a slave. She was also the illegitimate daughter of a slave as her parents were never married.

Yet, what set her apart from other illegitimate children was that her father accepted her as his daughter and made sure that she grew up under the guardianship of Earl and Lady Mansfield in Kenwood House. Although she grew up with the Earl’s other niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray, it is not certain in what capacity she did so. Was she the little Lady’s playmate, attendant, or cousin? Since there is no definite account, most people look at the painting featured above and assert that she was a companion equal to Lady Elizabeth. Others look at it more critically saying that she is portrayed as a Lady’s companion. Either way, Amma Asante’s 2013 movie, Belle, certainly illuminates her relationship with the Earl, with John Davinier (who would eventually marry Belle), and how that all culminated in the Earl’s monumental ruling against slavery.

The Movie: Belle starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Belle meets the young Frenchmen, John Davinier, when he is under the Earl’s apprenticeship for law. Through him, she hears about the Zong massacre where insurance had been taken out on the lives of slaves as cargo. Following mistakes in navigation, there was a shortage of potable water aboard. So as to save the crew and to retain their investment on the slaves, the crew threw the slaves aboard to drown them. Doing so would enable them to get paid out for insurance because if the slaves had died of thirst then they could not be sold and no insurance could be paid out. Belle then proceeds to pass correspondence to Davinier which brings his apprenticeship to an end.

I will skip the romance and depiction of high society that frequents the movie. However, it allows the audience to see exactly how people of colour were treated in England in that era.

The End of the Slave Trade in Sight?

Eventually though, Belle rejects a most amiable proposal. One of the reasons for this was the affection that she had begun to hold for John Davinier. Either way, the story progressed as the Earl became painfully aware that his attempts to give Belle a suitable life, one in which she fitted into English society, had dismally failed. His own reluctance to rule against the crew on the Zong exacerbated this. Furthermore, he could not even rule against them without drawing criticism from every part of English society – royalty, aristocracy, and commoners – as they were too aware of his relationship with Belle. If he ruled against them, it would seem like an unfair judgement. But, realising that his wish to see Belle’s happiness in English society would never be achieved as long as people who shared her skin colour were brutally murdered and slave trade continued, he ruled against the crew of the Zong in a monumental way. As such, he became remembered for respecting the lives of slaves, and thereby as a man who was instrumental in the abolition of slavery.

It cannot be known for certain what drove him to this judgement, but, the movie certainly makes the case that Belle and Davinier were instrumental. And so, the simple story of Dido Belle becomes more fascinating when we realise that not only did she defy social conventions but she possibly played a pivotal role in bringing the English slave trade to an end.

My Take on Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book Lover - The Books I Bought from the Strand Book Store showing Purple Hibiscus

Firstly, what is Purple Hibiscus?

Purple Hibiscus is the award-winning novel written by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and released in 2003. It tells the story of a girl, Kambili Achike, born as the daughter of the wealthy Igbo man, Eugene Achike – a religious man whose convictions often cross the border from decency and depart into the complex realm of zealotry and domestic abuse.

Purple Hibiscus cover
Cover of Purple Hibiscus

The family of Kambili, including her brother and mother, live a life based on a strict schedule determined by the dictatorial Eugene. Ironically, Eugene is more liberal in his political views – supporting democracy – while showing the greatest of generosity to those who are not his family. He is also a man who idealises the practices of European people. But, at home, he is a completely different man who demands much of his family while giving no real kindness in return. It gets more complex when Kambili’s strict lifestyle is disrupted by the discordant Aunt Ifeoma (Eugene’s sister). From there, the situation deteriorates and Kambili is torn between her father, her beliefs, her love and her desires.

What did I think of it?

I absolutely loved Purple Hibiscus! It is definitely one of the greatest books I have ever read. Adichie does an excellent job at conveying the myriad of political views, religious views, and emotions that encompass this book, leaving the reader unsure of whether they feel sorry for Eugene’s deterioration or whether they rejoice at it. In a way, this reflects Kambili’s own emotions – too scared, and enamoured of her father to resist him yet defiant enough that his retribution at her disobedience lands her in the hospital. Her admiration for her father’s values and behaviours slowly become a criticism of his dark actions – yet all the while preserving her love for him.

Adichie further contrasts Kambili’s defiance to her brother Jaja’s defiance which is both more strong and more offensive. She wonderfully symbolises this loss of innocence through the growth of purple hibiscus in their garden full of red hibiscus. Furthermore, the book is full of stark contrasts between rich and poor, Christian and heathen, man and woman, and subservience and insubordination. In doing so, she marvellously captures the essence of Igbo culture in a post-colonial Africa.

I would definitely give it five stars!

If you are looking for a thought-provoking, enticing, slow and yet somehow exhilarating read, this is possibly one of the best you will ever find!

Book Lover’s Paradise – New York City!

Beautiful Morning View of Manhattan - Book Lover's Paradise

Book Lover’s, this is for you! So, in my last post, I promised to follow up with exactly what inspired me to reinvent my persona as an author. Here it is:

New York City – The Book Lover’s Paradise!

In my last post, I mentioned my visit to the USA. Specifically, I mentioned my visit to the Strand Book Store and the New York Public Library. This was my experience! I first went to the Strand Book Store. Doesn’t this image just perfectly espouse what you would feel? Well, it is certainly what I felt when I walked into the Strand Book Store.

When a Book Lover enters a bookstore - Elsa
When I enter a bookstore

Except, I was not the confident book lover, declaring my intention to revel in the mysteries concealed in the winding bookshelves. Instead, I walked in meekly, dwarfed by the awesome and gargantuan scale of the Strand. The Strand Book Store proclaims to be home to over 18 miles of books. After visiting it, I can confidently say that they are right!

So how did it really change my perspective?

From book lover to aspiring novelist

Well, as any author will say, I have always aspired to be a published writer. So, after having published what I consider to be two sub-standard non-fiction works, I was complacent, even confident, that I had achieved my goals.

Book Lover - The Books I Bought from the Strand Book Store
The Books I Bought from the Strand Book Store
Book Lover - The Strand Bag and Books, 18 miles of books
Notice the meaningful tagline…18 miles of books

However, after visiting the Strand, and walking between the shelves stacked with the most illustrious and unknown of novelists, I knew that I had to join their ranks. I could not stay on as the little-known writer of historical non-fiction. To be a true author, I affirmed myself, I would have to learn to forge characters, conflict, and controversy in the most intricate of prose – mastering the art of storytelling and influencing readers all at the same time. Only after such a monumental piece, one that would be fit for the Strand, would I call myself an author. I wanted another person, one day in the future, to walk amongst those shelves and to consider my book as sacred and as entertaining as any other.

Apart from that

My visit to the other book lover’s haven

I bought the four books that you saw in the image! I will soon write my thoughts on one of them. But, I had spent over two hours in the bookstore after resolving to only spend an hour there. I also spent over $70 after resolving to spend only $20, but I suppose it couldn’t be helped, could it?

By then, it was dark when I made my way to the New York Public Library. This was just as exciting as the Strand, although I did not get to read. The art, the architecture, the furnishings and the atmosphere all create the perfect ambience in which to read the world’s best works of art. If you ever visit New York, you must go there!

So, where did it all leave me?

The whole experience in the USA (if you missed the previous blog post check it out here) was enlightening, to say the least. I met many new people, got many new ideas and inspirations, and I resolved to make the biggest decision of my career – to erase it and start all over again. I got valuable relationships, valuable memories, and most importantly, valuable reads out of the trip. The verdict: you can keep an eye out for my novel, which will be submitted to the Strand Book Store as soon as possible, and if you can – authors and readers – travel, because it will truly change your life! I certainly can’t wait to do it again!

Hello Literary World – My Rebirth as an Author!

New York Public Library

Greetings to all readers out there!

Here is my literary rebirth!

I have decided to reinvent my literary identity, my career, and, perhaps most importantly, my literature itself. To mark the good progress that I have made on my novel in the works – The Monk’s Curse – I am unpublishing all my previous works, have recreated my entire website, created a new website for the book here (you can visit it but it’s not done yet), and I am most excited to announce the opening of The Sandbox.

First of all: The Sandbox

A literary first in my opinion…

Before I say anything else, let me explain what The Sandbox is. Basically, it is my literary playground, my creative doodles, the sources of my inspiration, and my muse all mashed up into a single blog. This, however, will only be open to subscribers of my newsletter. So, please do subscribe. As an added bonus of subscribing, you will get an excerpt of my first novel when it is released. So, to get the best snippets of my works, The Sandbox is the place to be. It’s the behind the scenes. But, enough of that!

Onto: The Monk’s Curse

The new literary journey

Literary Reinvention - The Monk's Curse Banner
The Monk’s Curse Banner

One of the things that have sparked this reinvention was the conception of The Monk’s Curse. I can’t say much about it – the secrets will soon be available in The Sandbox – but I describe it as the riveting story of a boy, a prophecy, and a monk. It’s a story where East meets West and the Islamic Caliphate meets Christendom. Oh no, I have said too much! What I can say is that while writing this novel I have made up the most outrageous of fake histories, the evilest and naive of characters and the most scholarly prose. You won’t find too many action scenes in this novel. It is a political masterpiece with constant machinations going on behind the scenes. If you are anyhow interested in scholarly and political mysteries, keep your eye out for this book.

Finally: What has really led to this surge of inspiration and departure from normalcy?

What drove me to abandon my previous books and literary journey to start all over again?

It was a wonderful trip to the United States in the December of 2016. Meant to be an exploration of the place in which I will one day pursue medical studies, I turned it into an awesome experience of winter, museums, books, and a family Christmas.

Okay, so we don’t get white Christmases here in South Africa. So, I went to New York City in the hopes of seeing a white Christmas. I didn’t get that. Instead, I saw the marvellous Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and Times Square. Also, I spent a wonderful Christmas with family in Houston, Texas. Christmas is certainly not such a big affair where I come from. So, the lights, festivities, elaborate meals, and gift giving were a pleasant surprise.

Saturn V Rocket at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston
Saturn V Rocket at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston
View of Manhattan from over the Hudson at night
View of Manhattan from over the Hudson at night
The American Museum of Natural History in Upper Manhattan
The American Museum of Natural History in Upper Manhattan

The pictures just show some of my experiences and can hardly do justice to any of them. All I can say was that my trip to the USA was definitely inspiring enough to get me start writing my novel – I am now halfway through.

But what really affected me!

My greatest experience in the USA was that of my visits to the New York Public Library (see picture above) and the Strand Book Store. Evidently, my literary experiences stood out. I didn’t take any pictures of Strand, of which any book lover will know, but in my defence, I was too awestruck by the sheer decadence (is there a better word?) of the place. Be sure to get my thoughts on it in my next post!

Finally

I hope you have enjoyed what you have read so far, but trust me, if you are a bibliophile, it is only the beginning. See my next post for a whole lot of book recommendations and my experience in the largest bookstore I have ever been to!