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Designated Man by Moris Farhi
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Designated Man

by Moris Farhi

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Recently added byfiredrake1942, EasterineK

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A brutal tenderness: reviewing Moris Farhi's "A Designated man"

I read Moris Farhi's book in one sitting. Six hours. It was an incredible book. I don't want to use the word fascinating because I don't want to associate Moris's book with overused adjectival phrases. It's the sort of writing that makes me want to search for or create new adjectives to describe my responses to the book. Which is why I am using the oxymoron, brutally tender, to describe what I got out of reading the book.

It has a brutal theme: bloodletting and honour killing. But it also has the tenderness of love and life bravely resurging through the violence and death. Like arctic flowers that defy snow and ice and hard earth to snake their way out of a rockface and bloom like bright splotches of paint. To repeat the refrain, not tediously, but clearly and like an infrequent morningsong: life is holy, death is not, killing is the most unholy act. And loving, is a sanctifying act, with the power to regenerate, forgive, reconcile and thus, engender hope for future life.

On the smalll island of Skender, live the Kristofs, Goras, Rogosins,Kaplans, and others, their days preoccupied by age-old feuding. In fact, the main occupation upon Skender is feuding. And the majority follow it singlemindedly. The pattern of life on Skender is as follows: A member of one of the families is killed. This is swiftly followed by a killing in another family. Which is followed by yet another revenge killing.There is a constant engagement in revenge killing so that the cycle never ends.

It is the way of life on Skender. Upheld by the Law, which is in turn, upheld by the "Righteous Toma," harsh guardian of the Law. What is the Law? It is nothing other than the 'consecration of death' and the belief that revenge killing is honourable, that the family that remains unavenged is disgraced. In other words it is a glorification of death and killing. The Morituri are the young men and women who are being trained by Toma, to take over as future feudists and protectionists of The Law. They chant, "Honour!Strength! Honour!Death!"

Toma has brainwashed them into believing that willingness to embrace death at any time purifies one's blood. It is the only way to cleanse one's soul and to make the earth fruitful. With this distorted ideology of honour, he rules Skender with an iron spiritual hand.

Into this forgotten island, comes Xenos, the stranger, but he is no stranger. He is Osip Gora, son of Eleonora the falcon and Anibal, a former feudist who breaks away and solitarily believes that feuding is wrong. Fearless, unswayed by Toma's rhetoric,Osip chooses the friendship of Kokona, the ancient teacher and Dev, her lover. It is also interesting that Kokona and Dev and a young man Marius, form a minority that oppose the honour killings. On arrival on the island, Osip is almost killed by Bostan. Bostan is the deadliest of the feudists, a designated man.

The designated men are actually women in whose families all the males have been killed off. These women choose to become the avengers of the family name, dress as men and train to use guns to kill. Eleonora, Osip's mother was a designated man.

What happens to a civilisation when their women abandon mercy and the loving nature of women altogether to become men? It becomes doomed to die. Both Eleonora and Bostan became designated men to avenge their husbands. Eleonora is described as bloodthirsty and hungering for more blood as soon as she has killed. She becomes obssessed by the idea of honour, has no compunctions about sending away her young son so she can get on with the business of killing. Eleonora is soon killed.

Bostan lives a very dangerous life. With his skills as a sharpshooter, he hunts and is constantly hunted until the day he is shot and left for dead.

Rescued by Dev and Osip, Bostan or Bostana, is tended back to life by Osip with whom she falls in love. That changes her completely. Bostana reverts back to her womanly identity and gives up being a designated man. But this cannot take place without deep repercussions. Bostana's son Zemun, is an indoctrinated disciple of Toma. Blinded by Toma's teaching and his own desire to kill, he shoots his mother at the height of the reconciliation party. Osip Gora loses the woman he loves, after months of tenderly giving her life. He takes her body away and later, their charred remains are found at his estate.

The novel ends tragically. It is right. It is as it should be. Hope, if it is genuine, can be engendered, only out of deep darkness. As though it were a hard resurrection. Death-defying to the end. Resurrection can't have been easy. It took Christ three days and three nights to defeat death.

The lovers die. The harbingers of new life possibilities for the island of Skender die. But that is not all. The minority who do not support killing, grow. Kokona is alive though Dev dies and she remains the symbol of life lived with wisdom. She is the most powerful metaphor for the island, the woman who has seen so many deaths that she has grown immune to the fear of death. She is the island. She is the life that surges back.

This is the message of the book, the truth that life is more precious than death. Simple and profound. Like a parable whose truth we easily lose sight of but it never loses meaning. Walk out into the new Spring air and see a crocus pushing up through hoary frost and trying to bloom, that is what the book evokes, the fragile and yet tenacious grip love has on life and the way it gives hope back to it.

This book has tremendously moved me. Once in a long while comes along a writer with great power, of words, yes, but not just of words alone, a writer with a great heart whose heart shows through in his writing. I believe in the message of Moris Farhi here. I don't feel embarrassed to be a bit hyperbolic. If all the world could read this book, there would be no more wars.
Amen.

- Easterine Kire.
  EasterineK | May 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 184659068X, Hardcover)

Osip returns home to a remote island in the Mediterranean, hoping that it will provide him a haven after the traumas of war. On his arrival, he narrowly escapes death at the hands of Bostan, a supreme feudist. The island, he discovers, is still governed by the archaic code of honour which has condemned the inhabitants to perpetual bloodshed and obliterated countless families, including Osip's own. Helped by the aged Kokona, and by her earthy lover, Dev, Osip restores the watermill he has inherited. Soon, he and Bostan cross paths again. Beguiled by Bostan, Osip befriends him. When Bostan is ambushed by other feudists and left for dead, Osip rushes to his aid. While dressing his wounds, he discovers Bostan's true identity. When Bostan recovers, the two of them set out to end the eternal feuding. This is a deeply affecting fable that resounds with hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:31 -0400)

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