When I started reading this book I didn't think I was going to like it at all. I imagined a sort of preachy, politically correct, middle-class liberal Londoner shoving it in my face. Well, it was in my face but it was so not preachy or pc or even middle-class. What I read was life lived right on the edge in all its grittiness and truth. Kate Clanchy does what really good writers are supposed to do; she gave me a clear and unobstructed window into a lived life. I wasn't just an observer. I was there in her own awakening. Tragedy and struggle in the life of a displaced person, fleeing the ravages of war, caught in the grip of blind government policies weaves its way through these pages, yes. But so much more of the brilliancy of life lived honestly, painfully, beautifully in Antigona as she navigates her way through the maze of what we so casually call Britain.
Antigona works hard, very hard, to pay back the criminal outfit that got her into the UK. She works hard to send money back to her family. She struggles against the moral code from her old country and culture but never truly abandons it. Still, she works - twelve, fourteen, sixteen hour days, seven days a week. Perhaps not what you think of when you imagine asylum seekers hidden in all the dark corners of the UK and other European countries.
Everything you thought you knew about asylum seekers or displaced persons or those 'foreigners' washed up upon our shores is challenged gracefully by Kate Clanchy in this honest tale for our times. It is a beautifully written chronicle of one British woman's encounter with the unknown, the different, the 'other'. She may start out as a 'do-gooder' but she becomes real, honest, and so very open in her encounter with all she once took for granted. And her writing carries you along so smoothly you hardly realize you are on the journey until you come to the end.
I liked this book very much. I think it is very well written and important in its topic of discussion. I'd like to hear it read on Radio 4. I'd love to hear Kate and Antigona on Woman's Hour and The Book Club on the World Service. Once you read it you'll know what I mean. Enjoy!
After recently reading a fictional story about an asylum seeker in the UK, I was drawn to this book for a story about a real refugee. While this book addresses the journey of this refugee immigrant, Antigona, it is much more than that. We learn about Antigona and her experiences through the author telling the story of the development of their relationship as friends over a number of years. The cultural differences are wide but their friendship grows closer as they learn about each other.
This books gives real insight into a different culture (largely Albanian, but the author describes quite clearly why a label such as this is never accurate) and the rules which some women are forced to live by. The author also reflects on her own perceptions and prejudices in a very honest way. Despite some harrowing content the book has an upbeat feel to it and is often funny.
It's a book for women that will make you think about the way you were brought up, expectations, lifestyle (especially how housework fits in) and the pressures of life. While nominally this is a book about a refugee it is really a book about women and friendship. Some non-fiction work can be dry, but this book is very accessible and easily readable.
Kate Clanchy's memoir of her friendship with Antigona examines what happens when the expectations and experiences of a North London poet collide with those of a Kossovan Albanian woman who is newly arrived in the UK. Antigona is everything the Daily Mail hates: an asylum-seeker (and, moreover, one who may not have been truthful in her asylum claim), a cash-in-hand worker who evades taxes and uses a false identity, a single mother. Kate is struck immediately by the force of Antigona's character, and her obvious personal strength. Seeing that Antigona is in financial need, she offers her a job, initially as her cleaner and later as her nanny. A deep friendship develops between the two women, yet the cultural divide can never truly be bridged. As Kate learns about the truly horrendous-sounding "Kanun of Lek" (the ancient mountain code of blood feuds and honour killings in which Antigona has been raised), her admiration grows as she contemplates Antigona's escape from a system where women are literally their husband's possessions, and in which domestic violence and rape at the hands of one's husband is accepted as normal. Yet as Antigona's daughters approach adulthood it is clear that the Kanun is still within her, dictating her feelings about what is acceptable behaviour for young women. Meanwhile, Kate contemplates a number of uncomfortable questions: what makes it right for her, as a relatively wealthy woman with a professional husband, to be able to purchase hours of another woman's life so that she can have "me time"? And if this also facilitates "quality time" with Kate's children, what of Antigona's own children and the time taken away from them? Clanchy explodes Germaine Greer's 1970 arguement that "brilliant women" must be freed up from childcare, by asking: what of the women who perform this service? What if they too have the capability to be "brilliant", but have lacked the opportunities to develop their talents (Antigona learns languages effortlessly, but is barely literate, school being considered an unnecessary luxury for girls who are destined for marriage and farming)? As a woman who has handed my children over to under-educated nursery workers, and stay-at-home mothers raising extra cash through childminding, so that I can go off to the office where I do my interesting job, I too squirm in contemplating these issues. This book manages to engage with tough questions of this nature whilst also being a touching and compelling description of Clanchy's empathy with Antigona, and the impact of violence and control on Antigona's life.
This book described the life of Antigona, an Albanian refugee, from the time the soldiers drove her and her family out of their home, through to the present day. What made the presentation unusual was that it was written by the neighbour who employed Antigona as a cleaner and subsequently as a nanny.
Kate Clancy is a recognised poet and journalist and she saw the opportunity of recording the experiences of her employeee / friend, to increase awareness of the situation of refugees in the UK.
Antigona's story is retold chronologically from the time Ms Clancy met her in the street and on impulse offered her a cleaning job. Gradually Antigon's experiences are drawn out as trust grows. We learn of her amazing escape from her mountain home, through Italy and into Britain illegally. But it's hard to judge her for this. She works incredibly hard to protect and provide for her family and at times seems to get very little in return.
What struck me was the incredible emotional baggage that Antigona and her family brought from their homeland. "The Kanun of Lek" - a moral code by which they lived and which has so little respect for women. It is in some aspects similar to Muslim morality in its conservative dress and the concept of removing women from male temptation, but allows for corporal punishment of wives and even their murder if they step out of line.
Having read The Cellist of Sarajevo, which takes place in the war, this makes an excellent follow-up by describing the experiences of one family's attempts to integrate into our society.
I am sure this book has increased my understanding of the predicament of such people and will help promote a wider feeling of acceptance.
This is an extraordinary book, filled with dark despair at our crushing inhumanity to each other, and despite this, warmly life affirming with the small lights of hope, friendship, strength, love, survival
Clanchy, a middle class feminist meets Antigona, a refugee from Kosovo, and offers her a job as cleaner and later nanny.
The thing is, these two women are in a way soulmates, as a deep sisterly friendship developes. and the two insinuate into each others lives.
Clanchy writes from a place of feminist, humanitarian passion about her Kosovan friend, but the book is deeper and more honest than that, as in order to truly tell the story, Clanchy has to examine her own observational point of view.
She has written a deep and thoughtful book about her own changing understanding, as much as the the story of a migrant from Kosovo.
She also, in one searing section, shows how limited the feminism of the 70's was, quoting from Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch an 'idyllic' view of childrearing and parenting which completely ignores the class politics on which that 'idyll' was based (Greer talks about the better world of rural Calabria, extolling its virtues, and talks about retiring there with a posse of friends to rear her children..'the house and garden would be worked by a local family who lived in the house'. Little different from Class bound Edwardian England, really!!!! Upstairs and downstairs. )
Clanchy is not afraid to tackle ambiguity, whether her own, or that of the astonishing Antigona.
She also writes like a dream, and the deep stuff never feels like the mouthing of slogans.
on 19 November 2009
This book is NOT one of those misery memoirs with a crying child on the cover, and a title like 'Mummy, Don't Leave Me' etc. And thank heaven for that. What it is: a compelling, intelligent, beautifully written book about a cast of fascinating people, angry, political, funny and touching in equal measures.
Kate Clanchy has written an account of her real life relationship with a remarkable woman, Antigona who is a Kosovan/Albanian refugee who comes into her life. Through Antigona, Kate explores the nature of freedom, what it means to be a woman experiencing the possibility of equality for the first time (and indeed, whether equality is something we can truly claim in Britain), and the surprising allure- and problem- of the Kanun of Lek with its gut instincts and brute justice.
Perhaps I'm making this sound like a terribly worthy book where the pet refugee Teaches The Rich Person A Lesson, but it isn't like that. Nobody in this book is shiningly good or irredeemably rotten, just real and human, and there isn't a fairytale happy ending. I got this book on an impulse, as it isn't my normal sort of thing, but I found it so interesting. Definitely a keeper.
This is a difficult book to review because it encompasses so many different subjects. Ostensibly a non-fiction book about the relationship between an educated, middle-class poet, married to a 'mild-mannered man' - just like her father, and mother of a toddler son and baby daughter and the Kosovan refugee-neighbour she employs as a cleaner, this book is much, much more than that.
It tells the story of Antigona, the sometimes heroic, sometimes mean-spirited woman who escaped from the war-torn, mountainous region where she had spent all her life with her tortured daughter on her back and two other young children. As if that weren't enough hardship for one woman in a lifetime, Antigona also has to contend with a 'useless' abusive husband who married her, with her family's collusion, and raped and beat her for years, a family bound by shockingly outdated traditions and values and the difficulty of adjusting to a multi-cultural society often at odds with everything she holds dear. It makes you alternately proud to live in a country which offers refuge to desperate people and horrified by the obstacles they sometimes face. It is also a difficult read because it makes the reader confront their own prejudices and opinions, constantly. As Kate Clanchy says, we carry our culture inside our bodies.
Although I didn't seek out a book about feminism, this book also tackles subjects such as the tyranny of housework and the politics of employing another woman to do one's cleaning and look after one's children. It often turns fashionable, socialist ideas on their head. For example, nobody would ever call a cleaner a 'maid' these days, but in the past, when people in service had job titles, they also had rights, status and were often better treated. I also felt renewed frustration with a society and a world in which so many women are so repressed and made to feel ashamed and dirty about so much of their lives.
I was also fascinated by the cultural and social history of Albania/Kosova and am keen to read more about this now.
A few times, during the reading of this book, I was irritated by Ms Clanchy's patronising and somewhat smug attitude, but she is a very likeable and honest person and she writes absolutely beautifully. And Antigona is a bundle of contradictions. She has experienced, and escaped a brutal marriage and a culture which objectifies women and allows them no freedom, has to work up to 18 hours a day but appreciates having the freedom to work. She is, understandably, intensely frustrated by the restrictions our society allows to be placed on women, and by the women who seem to embrace these restrictions. At the same time, she behaves appallingly towards her own daughters, whose very minor rebellions she regards as gross offences. She can not, no matter how hard she tries, marry the two sides of her history and personality.
It's a difficult book to review, and sometimes a difficult book to read, but it's like nothing else I've read recently and I recommend it to everyone.
This is a very good book. I can't wait for my friends to read it so I can discuss it with them.
Antigona is Kosovan, a single mother with two daughters and a young son; they are refugees in London. They had a terrible journey to get there escaping from war and Antigona's wife-beater of a husband. Kate Clanchy has a happy home and a young baby, but needs time to restart her career as a poet and journalist. A chance meeting of the two leads to Kate offering Antigona a job firstly as a cleaner, then later nanny, recognising Antigona's strength of character. Antigona has a fantastic work ethic and soon fills every day with cleaning jobs, and waitressing in the evenings. The two women click and become friends. Gradually Kate teases out Antigona's story: about the culture of living in the Albanian mountains and their strict code of law, the Kanun, which is honour-led; about their hard lives; about how she's desperate to find out what happened to her family; about how her brothers also in London don't accept her divorce. Kate is fascinated, horrified, humbled, and also really wants to help as much as she can. Antigona embraces Western culture, yet the Kanun runs deep, and when her daughters are on the cusp of becoming young women, she can't let them go; Kate finds these attitudes very difficult. Clanchy agonises over everything; she may be a liberal feminist, but overall tries very hard to understand and remain balanced. This was a engaging memoir, and Clancy's poetic style is very readable. The whole was a fascinating snapshot into another very different culture that is yet part of Europe.
on 24 January 2010
This isn't the type of book I would normally read or pick up. However, clearly I have been missing out! What an exceptionally well-written and thought-provoking book this is! I have lent my copy to three friends already and have bought copies as gifts for my grandmother and my best friend. It is by far the best book I read all year in 2009; fiction or non-fiction.
Antigona and Me is a fascinating account of the relationship that develops between a North London writer and her cleaner, a Kosovan refugee. Equally importantly, it's also a blunt and compelling exploration of the other themes that run strongly through the book - about the refugee experience - about how much cultural perspectives can vary - and then also about housework and 'women's work' in the house and how this co-exists with modern working life.
I'm not going to describe the book's content in detail, not least because it would be impossible to sum up the tapestry of ideas and stories that make up the threads of a very beautiful whole. It's quite a personal account, yet it's also a philosophical exploration. It will make you think about your lifestyle, outlook and expectation (especially as it relates to women, and fitting in the many pressures of life). It's about a refugee, and a lot of the personal story is very harrowing and hard to read - yet it is also beautifully written, moving and comic by turn, and a really fabulous read. More importantly, it will make you ask yourself important questions about women, friendship, household work and division of labour, expectations and perception. It is hard to describe exactly what it does, so you will just have to take my work for it being a brilliant and thought-provoking read in the very best way!
I don't generally enjoy non-fiction, but this book is a very personal one and a very good read as well as an interesting one. I will be eagerly anticipating Kate Clanchy's next publication.
This book was surprising and frustrating, interesting and irritating in places but in the end a throughly impressive first novel. The story which is well covered in depth in other Amazon reviews is told in the first person by a middle class, middle aged European mother who builds a relationship with a political refugee from the Albania mountains who has led a life far removed from her cosseted life of late motherhood and career concerns. The encounter causes our mum to review and pontificate on many things including motherhood, feminism , the black market, relationships and above-all family. At the beginning it took me some time to get into this book as it starts like a teenage crush with our English mum having a tendency to elevate Antigona and so we get a ''Antigona this'' and ''Antigona that'' start, without analysis. I was glad however that I preserved as we receive a lesson from Antigona's life in what a civil war and ethnic cleansing really mean to the life of a family as well as a social history lesson in Albanian mountain culture and how that clashes on many levels with our own liberal society. On top of that our poetry mum in being shocked by some of Antigona's life choices as she lives her life in London based on her Albanian roots, she starts to reflect about her own views on feminism and the role of motherhood in middle class Europe and it was in those peices of writing I felt the author was most successful. All in all this is an excellent and very thought provoking read, and, it must be said that unlike many novels its just the right length leaving you wanting more and starting slowly but keeping your attention to the last page. Its both an interesting tale but also a very successful vehicle for putting across many ideas and reflections on modern European society and by that I mean all parts of the continent which still has extremes of politics and poverty as well as a vast and changing cultural landscape