Tag Archives: Armenia

How I created my femme fatale

noir, romance book, femme fatale, cairoCairo Mon Amour started out as a noir novel. Whether it ended up as one, you can be the judge. But in the noir tradition, I needed a femme fatale, and that’s why I created Zouzou Paris.

She’s the childhood sweetheart of Pierre Farag, my Armenian-Egyptian private eye. But they’ve been long separated. The sweet girl he knew as a teenager on holidays in Alexandria is now a notorious film actress, protected by powerful men.

But she’s in danger, fearing that a high-ranking official wants her murdered. And that’s how she and Pierre meet again after nearly twenty years – she summons him to her private apartment to ask for his help. He sits agog as she levers off her luxuriant wig, peels off her eyelashes and wipes away the make-up: She’s no longer the hard-bitten Zouzou Paris, but the girl he knew as Aziza Faris, who fluttered her eyelashes at Pierre in their teens.

Well, with a reunion like that, how could I hold back? They’re bound together for life. But first I have to get them out of Egypt. I put them on the last ship to leave Alexandria when the Yom Kippur war breaks out, and then I follow them through France, where they are married – a condition that Zouzou imposes before she will allow Pierre into her bed. There’s a curious reason for her stipulation on wedlock, but you’ll have to read the book to know what it is.

We leave them in exile in 1970s London, both trying to negotiate a city of coin-fed gas meters, evil landladies, cambric bedspreads, and Dixon of Dock Green on the TV.

I’m fascinated with Zouzou – her volatility, her odd wisdom, the depth of her loyalty, her resignation to fate. I purposely didn’t give her a point of view; rather than writing from inside her head, I allowed the layers of her character to build through Pierre’s observations. My aim here -and I think it worked – was for Zouzou to be enigmatic and unpredictable.

A final word on her name: Zouzou is an affectionate version of her real name Aziza. But there’s a connection with a a film that was showing in Cairo around the time the novel is set: Khalli baalak min Zouzou, or ‘watch out for Zouzou’. In the movie, Zouzou is a college student who has to work secretly as a belly dancer to make ends meet – the nice girl with a shameful secret. How could I resist calling my femme fatale anything else? And of course, my Zouzou claims to be half-French, although nobody believes it. The surname Paris is her clumsy attempt at European sophistication, and it’s not so distant from her real family name Faris.

OK, I confess: I’m smitten.

***

You can buy a copy of Cairo Mon Amour here.

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‘Cairo Rations’ still #1 in its Amazon category!

graphic cover2Cairo Rations is still #1 in its Amazon category and still free! In fact, it’s permanently free on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Today’s stats:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,507 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Travel > Africa > Egypt

Check here to see where to get it.

 

The memoir that inspired my new novel Cairo Mon Amour – get it here for free.

My third novel Cairo Mon Amour is still under wraps, but I will cairo rations  yellow coverrelease publication details in the near future.

Before I started Cairo Mon Amour, I wrote a memoir called Cairo Rations about  my time in Egypt during the 1973 war, to bring back memories of the settings that I wanted to use in the novel.

I’ve just published a new version of the memoir Cairo Rations, which I am distributing free. Click here to sign up for my newsletter and get a copy of Cairo Rations in pdf, mobi (for Kindle) or epub (for many e-readers).

If you have comments about any of my books, please respond through this blog or by email at stuartcampbellauthor@gmail.com .

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Australia and the plight of the Armenians

AAVicken Babkenian, co-author of Armenia, Australia and the Great War, gave an excellent presentation at the Sydney Institute this week on a new work that details the efforts of Australians to provide relief to the thousands of Armenian refugees following the massacres of 1915.

Even with a reasonably good knowledge of the plight of the Armenians, I was completely unaware of this Australian-Armenian connection. Babkenian and historian Peter Stanley have  done extraordinary work in uncovering this slice of social history, using a vast and comprehensive body of resources ranging from soldiers’ diaries, memoirs, parish newspapers and the archives of forgotten charities.

Highly recommended.

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The orientalist stripped bare

inscribed book
“To the English friend and guest of Egypt the orientalist Professor Stuart Campbell I give this book (author’s name redacted)

My third novel Cairo Mon Amour (publication July 2016) is set in Egypt in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. I travelled to Egypt with my wife a few weeks before the  war started on October 6. I was to study at Cairo University, and my wife was to enjoy a reunion with her Armenian grandmother. We had  expectations of the Romantic Orient; these hopes were soon dashed.

I have written about our first days in Egypt in my memoir Cairo Rations!, and I have included the relevant section at the foot of this post. If you would like to have a free copy of the entire 11,000-word memoir, email me at stuartcampbellauthorATgmailDOTcom (replace the AT and DOT with @ and . so that I know you are human) and I will send you a copy and add you to my email news list.

Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity  here. Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity and The Play’s the Thing . Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .

EXTRACT FROM CAIRO RATIONS!

THE ORIENTALIST STRIPPED BARE

The address we had been given was written in English: ‘Bustan Said’, and that was it. This piece of information had been passed along a chain of relatives from Egypt to Australia to Britain by letter and telephone, and via several languages and alphabets.

On our first night in Egypt we booked into the Hotel Cecil in Alexandria, where Somerset Maugham had stayed and the British Secret Service used to rent a permanent suite. Our mission was to travel to Cairo the next morning to find my wife’s relative’s boarding house. I spent the evening combing the telephone directory for anyone with Madame P’s surname and calling them up. “No, not here. Who’s that?”, “Who, who? Not here!” It didn’t help that the phone book was in Arabic and that Madame P’s Armenian name could have been spelt in at least six ways. But this was 1973: People didn’t expect to locate some exact spot on the surface of the earth in microseconds; people were used to being stood up, missing each other at planned meetings; people were used to unanswered phones. We went to bed without misgivings.

The train took us through the Delta to Cairo the next day, and I fought for and won a taxi at Ramses Station, asking the driver to take us to Bustan Said Street. I tried pronouncing ‘Said‘ in several ways – the four bald English letters gave about half the information needed to guess the Arabic word – and the driver lurched fatalistically into the traffic, no doubt praying that the mysterious location would magically appear before his rheumy eyes. It didn’t of course, although we did crawl up and down Bustan Street many times, craning to see past the bogged traffic and the sticky fingers of the child beggars on the car window, in case we saw a huge illuminated sign for Pension P. Nothing. “Take us to a hotel,” I said, and he drove for miles, eventually stopping outside an unmarked establishment in an empty street blighted with dusty urban poverty. We refused a squalid room upstairs with six frowzy beds, and resumed our journey. This time I said to the driver, “Take us to funduq urubbii“, ‘a European hotel’. I still cringe at the memory of the clumsy request. We were delivered to the posh Borg Hotel, where our room had just one bed.

My only experience of the Arab World had been our honeymoon in Tangier, a memory naturally tinted with romance, or more specifically The Romance of the Orient. Our taxi trip had left me with the impression that most of Cairo looked like a rubbish dump, but waking up in a decent hotel with a view of the Nile restored my hope that the Orient was out there to be found. Even better, the front desk staff knew exactly which street Pension P was in – Bustan El-Saeedi Street, right opposite the Filfila Restaurant. With the missing syllables restored to Madame P’s address, we checked out of the Borg and took another cab. And here we were, outside an Italianate apartment building in chaotic Bab El-Luq with all the prescribed features of The Orient around us: Men in nightshirts and turbans, donkeys, street stalls, thronging crowds, beggars, hullabaloo. We took the shuddering birdcage lift to the fourth floor and were admitted to a large vestibule with a dining table and a dozen or so chairs, and seven or eight doors leading to bedrooms around the sides. A couple of professional gents sat us down and politely explained that Madame P was out shopping. They sent out for fuul medammes and boiled eggs while we waited. The gents were two of Madame P’s boarders. Some weeks later, one of them – an army journalist – gave me a signed copy of a book he had written in praise of President Sadat. He inscribed it in Arabic, To the English friend and guest of Egypt the orientalist Professor Stuart Campbell I give this book.

Now might be a good point to take stock of how things stood with the Orient in 1973, at least among the people that I mixed with. Despite its glee at the dismantling of the colonial order, nouveau intellectual youth culture in the UK had inherited the cultural blueprint of the East drawn up by former generations: The Orient of the Beatles and the bandwagon Indian mystics was sensual, passive, spiritual, dismissive of material concerns. This hippy formulation wasn’t much different from that of T.E. Lawrence’s views of the Arabs he led at the fall of Damascus in 1918. As for me, I spent the first two years of my degree luxuriating in the works of old-time Orientalists like William Lane, Richard Burton and Gertrude Bell. The task, I believed, was for the West and the East to reach mutual understanding, mutual respect, world peace and all that. The bit that I missed was that we, the colonialists, had written the rules and the East didn’t have a say. Five years later the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said launched his seminal book Orientalism, changing for ever the rules of intellectual engagement in the study of cultures. After Edward Said nobody wanted to be called an orientalist.

Let’s return to the dining room at Madame P’s. We had finished the fuul and eggs, and there was still no sign of the lady. The professional gents sent for a young man, a university student, who must have lived in the building, and he was told to take us around the neighbourhood to look for Madame P. We went from shop to shop while the student practised his English on us. I was expecting him to be interested and flattered (I cringe deeply again) that a British student had gone to the trouble of studying his language and his culture. Instead he questioned me brusquely about why I was in Egypt, eventually becoming quite sarcastic and tossing in terms like ‘imperialist’ and ‘invader’. We didn’t find Madame P, but by the time we returned to the Pension she was there, and the sour student slipped away. There were hugs and kisses, and my wife, her relative and an ex-orientalist settled down to catch up on family history.

1976 Minority Rights Group Report on the Armenians well worth returning to

armenian lessons 001The centenary of the Armenian Genocide in April 2015 has seen a deluge of online publications about the events of 1915. But there wasn’t always such a plethora of materials. I became interested in the Armenian question in the seventies, but there was very little scholarly literature available. I was saved by the 1976 Minority Rights Group Report on the Armenians, and I got hold of copy, I think by sending away for it. It was somehow lost during house moves over the decades, but I was delighted to find this week that it is available to download on the Minority Rights Group website, along with a 1987 update.

It is still an impressive document, but what I’d forgotten on a rereading was that there had been virtual silence on the Armenian question from 1923 until 1965. As the report says, ‘It suited all parties to keep quiet’ – and this included the USSR. How things have changed!

I was also rash enough to try to learn some Armenian in 1976. The only guide I could find was a grammar book in French. I decided that if I translated it into English, I’d learn some Armenian on the way. The picture is a page of my translation.

Forty years on, I’m writing a novel that is in part a homage to the Armenians. The amount of research material is almost overwhelming – a long way from the days when a scholar in London sent off a stamped addressed envelope and a postal order to obtain the MRG report. Download it and see what you think.

A Soviet diplomat’s epiphany in Armenia

KPSU card 001This is a short extract from my novel in progress Cairo Mon Amour that deals with Ivan Zlotnik, a Soviet diplomat posted to Cairo in 1973. I built Zlotnik’s character on slivers of the biographies of numerous Soviet diplomats of the era.

The novel is partly an indirect homage to the Armenian Genocide, which explains why I chose Yerevan for Zlotnik’s epiphany.

The illustration is my Communist Party of the Soviet Union membership card holder, a souvenir from my time as a student in Moscow, when I might have bumped into Zlotnik. Tucked into the card holder is my Lenin Library card.

A big thank you to my critical mates in the Write On! group in Sydney, who gave me input into an earlier draft.

I’d love to hear your responses to this extract.

©Stuart Campbell. Please respect my intellectual property by not copying the extract. There is lots of free stuff that you can legally share elsewhere on my site.

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“You always had it made, Ivan,” his fellow MGIMO graduates would say. It was true: Barely out of university, he had the gaudy rewards of the elite in the tiny Moscow apartment, right down to the Everley Brothers records, the Marlboro cigarettes and a Playboy magazine. But when the drinking was under way –  a shot of Johnny Walker  between slugs of Stolichanaya – his pals’ resentment dissolved in alcoholic comradeship, the good old Soviet way: Drink until maudlin happiness is induced, that is if unconsciousness doesn’t set in first.

It didn’t matter that Yuri grew up in an orphanage while his father was in the Gulag, or that Pyotr was the son of a diesel mechanic from Kazan. They’d all made it through MGIMO and nobody could take away a degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Zlotnik’s MGIMO friends seldom asked about his schooldays in Washington DC, where his father had been a diplomat. As for him, he preferred not to talk about being the one who sat out the Great Patriotic War in capitalist luxury while they froze their yaytsa off and lived on crusts. But his past made a difference; Zlotnik knew the West as an insider; he knew how the West felt. And this, he knew, made him dangerous, more susceptible to blandishments from beyond the Iron Curtain, a man to be carefully watched.

His parents had taken him home to Moscow in 1949, the year that Orwell’s 1984 was published. Zlotnik wolfed the book down a week before they left. But at seventeen, his political sensitivities were too undeveloped to fit the novel into a framework that included himself – Ivan Maksimovich Zlotnik, the American-speaking Russian kid who was going home. But something from Orwell must have stuck, and then it all came unstuck thirteen years later in 1962.

His was a life cut in half, he often thought: First, the years of hope and prospect and privilege when all you did made a kind of sense, and the bits that didn’t could be explained away, even his hollow marriage to Raisa. These were the years when you could reconcile the doublethink – how clever Orwell’s term was – by never daring to imagine that Soviet power was not impregnable; when as the son of a senior diplomat you had a responsibility to uphold the might of the state and prosecute its interests in Jakarta, in Hanoi, in Sydney, in corners of the world where a MGIMO graduate repaid his debt to the people. These were the years when you practised a refined dual consciousness that allowed you to lead a life based on the precepts of the Party in the sure knowledge that communism was doomed. These were the years when you reasoned away the sick in your gut when the Hungarian and Polish uprisings were crushed.

And then 1962, the height of Khrushchev’s thaw: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was in the Moscow bookshops, there for all to read uncensored from cover to to cover, not chopped up in bits of samizdat passed illegally from hand to hand; the Gulag was exposed in all its grinding, petty, bureaucratic cruelty. In May he took a copy to Yerevan, where he was sent to prepare a propaganda article on the removal of Stalin’s statue and the installation of the Mother Armenia monument. But his real job was to collect intelligence on dissidents in the small Russian community who lived among the Armenian majority.

The day before he left he met with his wife Raisa, who was passing through Moscow. She told him that her temporary posting to the hospital in Nizhniy Novgorod had been made permanent: A promotion, not to be turned down. They would get together when they could. He’d loved her, he thought, at the beginning. But she was a doctor, he a diplomat. Their futures belonged to the state, not to themselves.

***

Zlotnik was seduced by Yerevan: The dignified self-sufficiency of the people, the stubborn uniqueness of the culture, the resistance to having their Armyanskaya Sovietskaya Respublika swamped by Russians as all the other ethnic satellites were. It was balmy springtime, the wine was good, and the women were comely. He carefully read Denisovich in his hotel room with faint echoes of Orwell’s 1984 resonating with Solzhenistyn’s words. And something in his head – or was it his heart? – came unstuck.

For the next few days he suffered anxiety and shapeless unease. One night he downed a bottle of Armenian konyak and stood on his balcony drinking in the balm of spicy air that blew across the slopes clad with grape vines and citrus. Mount Ararat was fifty kilometres to the south inside Turkey, invisible but palpably sacred in the dark. Later, he often thought, the second half of his life began that night when he heard footsteps below his window. He looked down and a young, dark woman of astonishing beauty called up to him in Armenian from the floodlit car park.

“Sorry, don’t understand,” he mumbled stupidly in Russian.

She was perhaps a little younger than his twenty nine years, dark eyes, pale skin, dressed in a flouncy black dress and carrying a violin case.

“Did you see a car around here? A black Gaz? It’s my lift home.”

“Sorry comrade, I’ve been here all night.”

“Thanks comrade, perhaps I’ll take the tram,” she said, but then a pair of lights appeared on the road outside the hotel and she turned away.

“Before you go,” Zlotnik called out. “Where are you playing?”

She turned and he watched, charmed, as the taffeta dress swirled: “I’m playing in Anoush. At the Spendiarian Theatre. Come and see.”

The next night he traded a favour to get a ticket. Anoush, it turned out, was considered Armenia’s national opera. He was overwhelmed by the majestic gravity of the performance, by the unsettling fusion of oriental and western themes and cadences. He understood nothing of the text, but during the finale he put his head in his hands and silently cried for the loss of the first half of his life. Something had come unstuck, and he would never again be able to reconcile the doublethink; damn Orwell and his word!

In the morning he was recalled to Moscow to take up the second half – the equivocal, duplicitous, dissimulating half – of his life.

©Stuart Campbell

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Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing