13 July 2013

Note: the writer pseudonym, Anna Notaras, is taken from this most remarkable book, a bestseller in its time.

Mika Waltari is probably Finland's best known author and a true god of historical novels. No matter on which of those books you get your hands on, the richness of details, the precision and the incredibly vivid historical pictures will recommend such writing as top notch.

Having read the dramatic novel Mikael Karvajalka, I immediately declared it as the best work I ever laid eyes on. Intense, detailed, philosophical, deeply anchored in life, colourful and tragic, it was a deliciously intricate work of art. When I emerged myself into The Dark Angel though, I had to go through it for two times consecutively. One year later, for two more times again.

The Dark Angel or Johannes Angelos is set in the moment of the fall of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (1453). Waltari used historical and literary documents such as the diary of
Nicolo Barbaro to create a detailed account of the plans, strategies and the very siege of the city.
The Siege of Constantinople 1453


The Dark Angel is written in diary form. It tells the tale of Greek-blooded Ioannis Anghelos, aged 40, mysterious wanderer coming from Western Europe, now settled in Constantinople, the glorious heart of the Byzantine Empire (15th century).

In a time of great political unrest, he is being constantly spied and eventually hunted for his past involvement with Mehmet, the sultan now threatening the great city and the whole Christendom. Deeply committed to his faith, Ioannis's goal is nothing close to materialistic. Redemption and eternal life of the spirit are his only coveted prizes, and therefore he is willing and ready to die defending Constantinople.

However, his already complicated and risky situation is made even more difficult as he falls in love unexpectedly. The feeling is mutual, but the woman he desires seems to be from a least desirable family - and Ioannis does get many serious threats because of it. Also, he seems to hide his real identity, but his servant constantly mentions having recognised him as wearing the famous Byzantine purple that only emperors would wear.

Seen through other people's eyes, Ioannis Anghelos is quite a scandalous presence: he is a dangerous spy, a possible traitor, a seducer even seen among nuns, a madman who would die for his strange beliefs and who throws away his fabulous possessions. At times, the reader has no clue of what to believe about this character.

To divulge more of the twists and intrigues to follow would be a crime. These are so skillfully created that spoiling them would take away the great thrills.With every page you just hope that there's a way for them to survive, to stop or escape the deadly siege... and there are chances... but their hearts are "not of this world".

The Siege of Constantinople

Inexorable fate, violence, bitter waiting, war frenzy, unavoidable doom - the worst is delivered in honest sentences, in a blood-chilling account of historical deeds. Bit by bit, it is all built up to the final moment, and hope intertwines with the fear of imminent death in a way that feels genuine and not far-fetched.The details of the war strategy can be fascinating even to those who usually skip such parts.

The Confrontation Between Christianity and Islam

Luckily it is not the mockery we have today, especially concerning the terrorism obsession, but the true historical clash, the rallied forces, one wishing to conquer, the other one defending its heritage and spirit. It is a solemn meeting between the two, a clash of cultures and human types, a chance to distinguish between politics and spirituality.

Western vs. Eastern Christianity

A matter often overlooked or misunderstood, this is often the key to understanding this faith. The Eastern faith or Orthodoxy has stayed loyal to its roots, with an original theology instead of one that has gone through many alterations throughout the centuries.

The Double Mission

Ioannis Anghelos/ Johannes Angelos/ Jean Ange has an uncertain affiliation. He was the sultan's man, now loyal to the Byzantium. For a great deal of time it is never clear whether he is honest in his present position or is hiding his true self. Suspicion goes for about half of the novel, until the despair of love and the smell of death make him confess.

The Mystery

As said above, Ioannis Anghelos is a character shrouded in mystery. Oftentimes, himself or others reveal bits about his history, yet the questions still remain.

The Love

Unlike what would be expected, the love story here isn't a pretext or a side story. It is the very spine (and heart) of the novel, yet still it succeeds to be perfectly merged with the dramatic times, with the siege itself. It is merged with death. This is a perfect and frightening marriage of Eros and Thanatos. Furthermore, the love story is where beliefs are shown, where faith is to be seen and tested, and where the characters have the chance to actually prove who they really are on all levels.

1 July 2013

Posted by Anna Notaras | File under : , , , , ,
Having loathed pop culture because of its shallowness, stereotypes, infectious nature, appeal to simple minds and loads of other aspects and being more attracted to underground phenomena and thinking that all things popular are only about Hollywood 'values' and naked blondes, I deemed it all as noxious. Pop culture is for the dumb, I said.

Generalisation, however, often proves to be the worst crime. The smart side of society seems to have its say, after all. This is the only conclusion after observing the Sherlock series of BBC, a
modern adaptation of Sir Athur Conan Doyle's acclaimed works. I did not check the series because of an interest in detective stories, but because of all the talk around it. Somehow, wherever my virtual steps were taking me on the web, and not only, there was a bit of Sherlock, so it was always there in the background, slowly doing its work and convincing me to watch, finally. At the same time, I was harbouring curiosity on why is Benedict Cumberbatch a ladies' favourite, especially as he's nothing close to the classic beauties we know.

BBC's Sherlock crime drama series brings forth some some of the old-fashioned charm and virtues. We have a smartphone-era Sherlock who is an imperious man, unsocial, definitely strange and undoubtedly charming.Moreover, he is asexual, having had totally dismissed his sexual instinct. Yet you should think that, consequent to this role, Benedict Cumberbatch was titled Britain's sexiest man. Twice. 

Intelligence Is the New Sexy - For Some, at Least

Be it because of the mystery in it or some mind game, this Sherlock's power of seduction is boundless. He is pretty much the opposite of what media would promote nowadays - an icon that stands against superficiality, hedonism, cult of one's own ego, useless pastimes, irrelevant knowledge, and who tries his best to do catch the bad guys instead of turning bad himself. Wasn't that supposed to be boring or outdated these days? "But Sherlock is arrogant and full of himself", you might say. Yes, but that is clearly for 'the game', you can see how he's actually very relaxed about that and, most of all, good hearted. He enjoys playing the game that way. He is clever and has no interest whatsoever in covering that up.

There is more to it. Benedict's Sherlock has his own rules and makes a full commitment to these. He has a phenomenal detachment and rigidity when exterior factors try to change his way of living. For example, he rejects the femme fatale Irene Adler who was head over heels for him, genuinely interested in his intelligence and showing true feelings for him. He is a man choosing to live in a different way and there, surprisingly, is a cohort of admirers happy about being 'Sherlocked'.

Benedict Cumberbatch and How the British Do It Differently

Watching Benedict outside the character reveals a classy, modest, down to earth, real gentleman - a perfect specimen to illustrate this British invasion in the world of top acting. He and the producers have played this to a great extent - just see his polished look, his unusual haircut, the conservative air of Sherlock. It's all unexpected and out of fashion. 8 million views per episode and hordes of fans hardly waiting for the 3rd season prove the massive success of the series in which no one could've created such a distinctive and adorable character but Mr. Cumberbatch. He almost forced us to care about different things. The recipe worked extremely well, and whoever hasn't watched an episode yet is standing aside and just wondering how in the world can there be such mass insanity around it - like, what's the deal? Well, I know I watched and I was sherlocked. There's substance in it and a great dose of freshness. If you thought perfection would fit into one certain matrix and into that alone, this phenomenon should teach you that it's not.