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A Comic Holiday Novel Piles Suffering Atop Slapstick

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Mark O'Donnell's new Christmas novel, "Let Nothing You Dismay."

04:24

Other segments from the episode on December 10, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 10, 1998: Interview with Rana Husseini; Review of two CDs by Thomas Quasthoff; Review of Mark O'Donnell's novel "Let Nothing You Dismay."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 10, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121001np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Rana Husseini
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

When Rana Husseini was growing up in Amman, Jordan she occasionally heard about "crimes of honor," stories of women who were murdered by a male relative because of their real or imagined immoral sexual activities; including pre-marital sex, adultery or having been the victim of rape, incest or sexual advances.

Back then the rumors Husseini heard seemed far removed from her own life, but once she began her job as a crime reporter for the "Jordan Times," it was impossible for her to dismiss "honor killings" lightly. Fewer than a hundred murders are reported each year in Jordan, but one-third of them are classified as "crimes of honor," and it's suspected that many more killings go unreported.

The Jordanian penal code has special lenient sentencing guidelines for men convicted of "honor killings," many go free after serving less than one year in prison. Rana Husseini is one of the first journalists to break the taboo and write about "honor crimes" which have a centuries long tradition in Jordan as well as Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey.

She's received international recognition for her work, including the 1994 Med News Journalism Prize, and this year's Reebok Human Rights Award. We spoke with her from Paris where she's attending Amnesty International's first Human Rights Defenders Summit.

I asked her how she initially came across the "honor crimes" story.

RANA HUSSEINI, JOURNALIST, "JORDAN TIMES": You know when I was designated as the crime reporter, I started reporting regular crimes, and then maybe four months or five months later I came across this very sad story which is the story of a 16 year old schoolgirl who was killed by her older brother because her only fault was that she was raped by her other brother.

And I think that was the most horrifying story I came across because this woman or this, let's say, schoolgirl was a victim maybe five or six times. Because she was raped and then her brother threatened to kill her if she told her family, and she had to tell her family because she became pregnant.

And he tried to kill her, but she survived, and then she underwent an abortion. And then she was married off to a man maybe 50 years older than her, and then six months later he divorced her, and the day he divorced her, they killed her.

BOGAEV: The name of this young girl is Kafaya (ph).

HUSSEINI: Kafaya, yeah. It means "enough" in English.

BOGAEV: "Enough?"

HUSSEINI: "Enough," yeah.

BOGAEV: That's a sad irony. I'd like you to tell us what happened, then, as you followed the story. The older brother, I believe, turned himself in to the police after he killed her. Is that right?

HUSSEINI: Yeah, usually, of course, on the day of the murder he took her home and he assured her that he's not going to do anything to her to harm her. And then later on he brought a knife, tied her up to a chair, gave her water to drink, and asked her to recite from the Holy Koran, and then he slashed her throat.

And then he went outside and screamed to everybody that, I killed my sister to cleanse my honor. And everybody started ululating and praising him for what he did; then he went and turned himself in to police.

The following day when I went to investigate the case, by coincidence, I met the uncles who planned, let's say -- I call it the execution. And, you know, at first I was asking them that I heard the girl was killed and stuff like that. And they were asking me, who told you? And I told them, I saw that it was a small item in the newspaper.

And then I started talking to them, you know, trying to see why they killed her. At first they told me, she was a bed girl. Then they said that she was raped by her brother, and then I asked them, why did you kill her? Why did you punish her? Why didn't you punish the brother?

And they told me that they killed her because they believed she seduced her brother. And this is really when I felt that the society tend to blame women for everything.

BOGAEV: So, this is the answer to the other question which, perhaps, might be why didn't they kill the brother who raped her.

HUSSEINI: I guess -- I don't know, maybe it's easier for them to kill her, I don't know. Because they are the accusing her of seducing her brother, you know. And I told them, I said, well, there are a lot of men in the streets why would she resort to her brother to sleep with?

And then they looked at me and they started questioning me, why do I care? Why am I dressed -- I was wearing jeans -- why am I dressed like this? I studied in the States, this means that I'm not, you know, I'm a bed girl, and why I'm not married until now, and all that. And then after that I decided to leave.

BOGAEV: What sentence did the brother who murdered Kafaya receive?

HUSSEINI: OK, the penal code -- premeditated murder which is the case of Kafaya, it's the death -- it's punishable by the death penalty. But in his case it was considered a manslaughter and he only received 15 years which of course was immediately dropped to half because the family of both the victims and the suspect dropped charges against their son.

So, he ended up receiving seven and a half years while the brother who raped her and attempted to kill her got 13 and a half years.

BOGAEV: Does Jordanian law define a crime such as this as an "honor crime," given a name, and are there sentencing recommendations?

HUSSEINI: Yeah, I mean, there are three articles in the Jordanian penal code which exempt or reduce the sentence against killers in such crimes. In his case, they considered it a fit of fury, OK. It's a manslaughter, and he only got seven and a half years.

And it just depends, sometimes they give them -- they pass on lenient sentences that could range from three months to six years, to one-year depending on the judge, depending on the case. And if it was proven that it was a "crime of honor," the killers will only get three to six months in prison.

BOGAEV: This might be determined on a case to case basis, but how does the family decide to orchestrate the murder? How do they appoint what male relative, I suppose, will commit it?

HUSSEINI: I mean, it depends on the family. If they have a male relative who is under 18 they will assign the task for him, because if he is under 18 he will go to a juvenile center and he will learn a profession, and when he is 18 he will be released without a criminal record.

If there is no -- of course they convince the killers that they are heroes and that they are saving the family's reputation, and that their sister has tarnished the family's honor and that the only solution for them is to kill her. And they give them financial encouragements, rewards.

Like, don't worry, when you get out we will help you get married, we will give you money, we will give you a piece of land. In the case of older brothers usually they select the male relatives who are not married, who do not have any responsibilities -- family responsibilities.

And, if, there is only, for example, one married man they will assign, you know, have him -- push him to kill the sister. Or it could be a father, I mean, it just depends on the family.

BOGAEV: So, this is all highly premeditated.

HUSSEINI: Of course.

BOGAEV: What does the Koran say on these matters of adultery, of "crimes of dishonor" that these women are being penalized for? I mean, is an "honor crime" based on religious beliefs or is the practice based on cultural ones?

HUSSEINI: Extremely not. And I'm glad that you raised up the religion issue because most people misinterpret Islam or misinterpret the concept of these killings, and relate it to Islam. When, in reality, it has nothing to do with religion. The Islamic religion always calls for forgiveness, and in case of adultery God put very strict rules, like there needs to be four witnesses to an act of adultery.

So, these crimes are strictly against religion. I mean, people do not do them under the pretense of religion, they do them out of cultural beliefs, you know.

BOGAEV: Well, what is the "honor" part of the equation then? How does one assess the honor of the family in cultural terms?

HUSSEINI: I mean, in cases of these women, a woman is responsible -- a female, let's say, is responsible for her family's reputation, this is how they see it. If she tarnishes this image, OK, the only way to fix this tarnishing is to kill her, meaning blood cleanses honor -- it's like a glass, OK, if it breaks you can't fix it, and the only way -- in this case, if a woman violates her family's or tarnishes the families image or honor, is to kill her.

BOGAEV: Do "honor killings" occur in all levels of society or are there differences from urban areas to nonurban?

HUSSEINI: You know, from my experience of five years reporting, most of the crimes occur in poor and crowded areas among uneducated people. Where, you know, the word of mouth travels quickly and the families see no solution but to kill their daughters to stop the rumors.

BOGAEV: How do the families establish the guilt of these women? What are the criteria or is suspicion enough?

HUSSEINI: It could be suspicion, it could be, really, being involved in a relation or becoming pregnant out of wedlock, just talking to a stranger. It just depends on the family, you know.

Sometimes -- I've covered many cases where, you know, women just told their father -- a male relative that they want to be free, they want to do whatever they want, and they will kill them just for that.

Of course, there are other reasons, you know, women are killed where the family's claim it's a crime of honor. For example, you have incest, you know, if a woman is raped by her -- a male relative or a male family member -- becomes pregnant, for example. They will kill her, and nobody would care to know, you know, who she became pregnant from.

They would say, OK, she's pregnant, this means that she really deserves it. So, this is one -- inheritance, sometimes women refuse to waive their inheritance rights so they kill them and pretend it's a crime of honor.

It could be just because there are too many women -- of course divorced women are also -- could be targets because after they're divorced they're not virgins anymore, and they can do whatever they want. So, you have all these factors.

BOGAEV: You mentioned that in Kafaya's case her brother had her recite verses from the Koran before he killed her. Is that common? Is there a certain pattern or ritual manner in which these women are murdered?

HUSSEINI: I mean, I don't know. I can't know all the cases, but in general, in Islam, if you know that, for example, you're going to die you receive a bullet or whatever, you know, you're going to die; there is a certain verse that you say, OK.

So, he asked her to say this verse because he knew he was going to kill her, it doesn't have to be a murder, you know. Do you understand?

BOGAEV: Yes.

HUSSEINI: Like you're in a battle -- it's especially for fighters. When you're in a battle or, for example, you get injured and you know you're going to die you say this verse.

RECITES ISLAMIC VERSE

You say that if you know you're going to die. It's just -- this is how we are taught. So, in her case, because he knew he was going to kill her, he asked her to say this verse.

BOGAEV: What does the verse mean?

HUSSEINI: It means, "I swear that there's only one God" -- that's it. "I swear that there is only one and only God." And that, "Mohammed is the prophet of God."

BOGAEV: You were really one of the first reporters to write about "honor crimes" in an Arab nation. How have reporters written about it before or why hasn't it been exposed before?

HUSSEINI: These types of crimes are very -- the issue is very sensitive. Nobody -- not everybody would dare to do it, OK. In my case, -- let's say I was the most consistent reporter. I was the most reporter who documented each crime. Each crime I heard about, I wrote about; each sentence I heard about, I wrote about, OK.

Nobody -- I feel that nobody really cared about these women if they were killed or not. And that's why I took upon this mission to fight for these women because nobody cares if they were killed, if they were not, why they were killed, the reasons, all these things; nobody cares.

BOGAEV: You wrote about one case in 1994, a man killed his sister when he discovered a strange man in her apartment. Later, it turned out, in the court proceedings that this woman was being threatened by the stranger, that she wasn't engaging in some kind of illicit relationship with him.

And you spoke to the brother then, and asked him if he regretted what he had done. What did he say?

HUSSEINI: He said that he regretted that his sister was not -- did not, you know, commit an immoral act. But he said, if I were put in the same situation and I didn't know that my sister was innocent, I would kill her.

BOGAEV: So, honest mistake, sorry; in other words.

HUSSEINI: I guess so.

BOGAEV: Rana Husseini is the crime reporter for the "Jordan Times." We'll continue our conversation after this break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BOGAEV: Back with Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini. She's a crime reporter for the "Jordan Times."

What options do women have who are likely victims of "honor crimes" or who're being threatened by their families? If they go to the authorities, for instance, to report a rape, do the police turned them right back over to their families?

HUSSEINI: OK, there is a procedure for that and what happens, for example, if a woman is suspected of having an immoral relationship and she survives the killing, let's say, she does not die; or a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, and the authorities discover her before the family is able to kill her, they are placed in what is called protective custody.

Meaning they are detained administratively by the administrator in the district, and they're placed in prison with other women, you know, they could be criminals, thieves or whatever. And this is another thing that I've been fighting for which I don't think that these women deserve to be there in prison.

You know, their life is threatened, everybody knows that they might be killed, and they're in prison instead of having their family and relatives in prison, you know.

BOGAEV: That's another form of victimization.

HUSSEINI: Exactly. And, of course, most of them are held there indefinitely because the police know that if they are released the families will kill them. So, in most cases -- of course, the families, once they are in police custody the families do not want them, and if they know that they are released they would kill them.

In several cases, and I've covered some before I came here to Paris, an unfortunate case which happens a lot; it was a case of a 17 year old girl who eloped with her lover and then she decided to turn herself into police or the police caught them.

Her father went and signed a guarantee that he would not harm her, they released her, and he took her and slit her throat. He took her to a forest and killed her, and then went and turned himself in. And this happens all the time, I mean, it happens over and over.

And most families, they do not rest until they kill their daughters. The ones who are being held in prisons.

BOGAEV: Are there women's shelters in Jordan? It sounds as if you wouldn't be safe enough.

HUSSEINI: I mean, now the government is working on building a shelter. Still, this project is in its preliminary stages, but I think eventually we're going to have either a shelter or shelters, I don't know. But they are working on it because, finally, they realize that this is a problem, and that these women do not deserve to be there in prison wasting their lives.

BOGAEV: Just recently, I believe the Jordanian judicial system has been tightening penalties on those who commit crimes against women and children, and "crimes of honor" in large part, I think, because of the work that you've done. As the new penal code been finalized and put into effect?

HUSSEINI: No, not yet. I mean, it's going to be a long procedure because it has to go through Parliament, they have to approve it, and you have -- all the Parliament is men. There are no women in our Parliament, unfortunately, this session.

But the good news, let's say, is that His Majesty the King is really pushing for, you know, he had asked the previous two governments to work on changing the laws. Her Majesty the Queen is also following up His Royal Highness. The Royal Family, they're all now, you know, are pushing for this -- changing the legislation, you know, trying to raise awareness about this issue, pushing for the shelter. So, I think things are changing in a positive way, I hope.

BOGAEV: In King Hussein's denunciations of violence against women to Parliament, and to the people of Jordan has he openly acknowledged, directly, that "honor crimes" exist? That "honor killings" happen?

HUSSEINI: He didn't say it this way in his opening speech. He just talked about, you know, that women and children should be ensured a respective life. I don't remember his exact words, but he didn't -- I mean, he made a reference to "crimes of honor."

He didn't say that, yes, we have "crimes of honor." He didn't say it this way, he just made reference to it indirectly, but the Crown Prince hasn't denounced crimes of honor openly several times.

BOGAEV: There are so many threads that contribute to this. I'm thinking that if the judicial system does change, if the penal code does change, and that, as you said is a long process, there are so many cultural influences and cultural beliefs about the place of women in society. How does one go about changing that?

HUSSEINI: I mean, that's another problem. It's going to be a long procedure, but we have to start. And this is my belief, you know, we can't just sit there and say, OK, you're talking about changing a whole concept here. I think I started something, I mean, now the responsibility falls on everybody else, it's not only me.

And I think that, you know, now the positive things that the Crown Prince is talking about, and the King is talking about it, everybody is talking about it. Everybody now realizes that there needs to be awareness, people need to know that we are approaching the 21st century and that these crimes are, you know, these barbaric acts that are being practiced against women are not right, they're against religion.

So, the role falls on the leaders, the decision makers, the religious leaders, you know, they need to tell people on Friday prayers that this is not right, that this is against religion.

The media also needs to play a role -- television. And I think they're doing this, but it's going to -- it's a slow procedure, and any -- if you want to change anything in any society you can't just come at once because people will resist it. So, things, you know, I think things are going in the right direction, but it's going to take time.

BOGAEV: Rana Husseini is a crime reporter for the "Jordan Times." Will continue our conversation with her in the second half of our show.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Barabara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

Let's return to our conversation with Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini. In covering the crime beat for the "Jordan Times," Husseini has become one of the first reporters to expose the practice of "honor killings." In Jordan and other Arab countries women are murdered by their male relatives because of their real or perceived sexual indiscretions.

When Rana Husseini was a child in Jordan, these crime seemed almost unreal to her because of her own upbringing which was rather untraditional.

You were born in Amman, what did your family teach you about the place of women in society? What you would grow up to be?

HUSSEINI: OK, let's say, my mother always encouraged me. She wanted me to have a good degree and to be good in English because, you know, if you speak good English -- if you speak two languages you'll have easier jobs, you can be more productive. So, my family really -- it consists, of course, of my mother, my father has passed away seven years ago, and my brother.

But they always supported me, and, let's say, not about women's issues, but just to be -- so I can be dependent when I grow up to be able to support myself and all that. But, let's say, becoming an activist -- a woman activist, I would say this grew me as I worked, you know, it just developed.

BOGAEV: You have an older brother, were you treated as equal growing up?

HUSSEINI: Yeah, let's say 95 percent.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: You studied in the States; you held some jobs here, you waitressed, you kicked around, and then you went back to Jordan to be a journalist and you ended up with the crime beat. How did you fall into crime reporting?

HUSSEINI: I didn't ask for it, but, let's say, when I was in the States I also worked -- in addition to holding several jobs at the same time, I also wrote for the school newspaper. But I wrote about sports mainly. And then the last year I did an internship with the "Oklahoma Gazette" which is a weekly, and I wrote about social issues.

But when I came back to Jordan, I knew I wanted to work for the "Jordan Times," but I didn't know what -- so when I went and met my editor he told me that he wanted me to be the crime reporter. And I said, OK, fine because I really liked -- I always -- when I open the newspaper I like to read about crimes or accidents.

So, I thought that was an exciting job. There's no routine in it, and every day there's something new. And of course when you first start you just take whatever you are assigned to, because this is how you start. And I accepted that, and I just went on with it.

BOGAEV: What do you wear going on interviews? I have seen pictures of you, you are a tall woman, you play on your nation's basketball team. You're somewhat imposing, and don't look like your average Jordanian woman. Do you where a head scarf when you go to small villages, or skirts?

HUSSEINI: No, no. This is not necessary in my country. I mean, if you want to wear a scarf it's an option, nobody is obliged to where a scarf even if you go to small villages.

I usually like to wear jeans and shoes, I've said that before. I wear shoes usually when I go to dangerous places because, as you know, I'm an athlete just in case something wrong happens I can just takeoff running.

BOGAEV: You mean you wear sneakers.

HUSSEINI: Sneakers, yeah. Tennis shoes -- jogging shoes, let's say. And this is how I go to work every day, I mean, this is what I'm comfortable in. I know I'm not the typical, average woman. Many people oppose the way I dress, the way I think, but too bad, you know. I don't live for people, I live for myself.

BOGAEV: Have you had to use your tennis shoes? Have you been put in a dangerous position when you've been interviewing people?

HUSSEINI: I was, but it wasn't going to an "honor crime," it was a regular murder. I mean, I didn't run but I had to leave the place very quickly.

BOGAEV: Why?

HUSSEINI: It was this father who killed his son with an ax, OK, and it was in a poor area. So, I went and I asked around, and I met this woman, and she told me, yeah, she knows all the relatives and the family, and she will take me to their house; and tell them that I am coming to investigate.

So, we go there -- of course, I'm an outcast -- it's obvious. I'm wearing jeans, blah, blah, blah, and they're all wearing the traditional dress. And they're all sitting and lamenting the murder, and I sit, you, know, and wait, and wait, and then somebody noticed that I'm a stranger and they call me to a room and they lock the door. And they take my notebook, and they start telling me, why am I in their house?

I didn't tell them I'm a reporter, and I was scared, you know, because they locked me in and they were questioning me, and they took my notebook and tore it up, you know. And then they said they're going to call the police, and I said, good, call the police! I thought that woman had told them that I was in the house. And then they opened the door, and I just left quickly, you know. I was scared.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: How do you put the family at some kind of ease or just get them to communicate with you?

HUSSEINI: OK, most usually, in most cases even in regular murders I try not to talk to the family directly, I try to talk to their relatives because I know like the first day -- the first two days they're very enthusiastic, they're very excited, and there's anxiety, there's, you know, all this tension in the air.

So, most of the time I try to avoid them; like, talk to the relatives, to their neighbors, it just depends on how I feel the situation is; if it's possible to go and talk to them or not.

For example, I also covered a story of a 15 year old girl, a shepherdess, who was killed by her brother. And it is also a sad story because a jealous schoolmate sent a letter to her family accusing her of having a relationship, and of course the family, without investigating the letter -- the source of the letter the accuracy, they killed her.

So, I went and spoke to the mother, and I asked her, what do you think of the murder? Do you think your daughter deserved to die? She said, what can I say? It's her fate to die, and God forgive the person who sent this letter.

So, sometimes, you know, you find people who cooperate, sometimes you don't. It just depends on the crime, the conditions, and the circumstances.

BOGAEV: When you investigate these crimes and talk to the family members of women who have been murdered are you surprised by the -- what the women say? What the women's understanding of what honor and a woman's role in determining the honor of her family is?

HUSSEINI: I'm surprised -- I'm not surprised, I feel sad, you know, and depressed because of the way these women feel or think. But at the same time, I know that -- I remember the background they come from.

Most of these women are uneducated, OK, they are told from when they're children to obey their husbands, obey their brothers, to be the sacrifice, you know, to not protest any decision. So, I wouldn't be surprised if a woman really helped in her daughter's death, OK, or plotting to kill her daughter.

Or if they think that, yes, really my daughter does deserve to die, you know, that's one thing. On the other hand, many women are also helpless they're financially independent, OK, most of them they don't have a degree. They get married very young; they're not experienced. So, they don't have a say.

If they try to protest, you know, for example, a killing they will be divorced; they have no place to go. In our society, a divorce -- divorced women it's a big shame, as I said before, they could be killed later on. If they are divorced their families usually do not want them back to live with them.

So, you have all these factors, you know, as I said, I won't be surprised as much as I would be depressed for the situation, realizing that they are helpless or in a way they are ignorant, you know. And it's not their fault, it's just the way they are brought up to think.

BOGAEV: What kind of response do you get from your readers? What kind of mail do you get?

HUSSEINI: I get a lot of supportive letters through the editor, not about me, but actually they are more upset or enraged by the stories and by the sentences. And most people, you know, they're really upset and they want things to change.

On the other hand, I have several -- on several occasions I have learned that some people do attack me for, and accuse me, of tarnishing the image of the country. And that by writing this I'm showing the dirty clothes or the dirty things that happen in my country.

People did not realize -- or that I am encouraging adultery for example. And the thing that people do not realize is that what I'm doing is not to gain a reputation or to tarnish my country's image or for anything. It's just -- I know that there are women who are killed injusticely -- in an injustice way, let's say, and nobody is doing anything about it.

And I think that something needs to be done, and that's why I write about these things because these women cannot raise their voice. So I'm trying to raise their voice, and let people know that these women are killed for no reason and that something needs to be done.

BOGAEV: What happens to men if they commit adultery?

HUSSEINI: Nothing.

LAUGHTER

Why would something happen to them?

LAUGHTER

OK, I mean it was very rare that I covered a story where both the man and woman were killed. Ninety-five percent of the stories, it's women who are killed, the man always gets away with it. I don't know why -- the partners. They always get away with it.

BOGAEV: Is it because the women are always perceived as the temptress, as the cause, as an evil influence?

HUSSEINI: And the other reason is that it's if you kill a man, you will get into big trouble, OK, because killing a man; there will be revenge, they might kill somebody from your family, and you have to pay money, you know, to settle for -- for tribal settlements.

And it's funny, but I introduced this brother who killed his sister. She was -- it happened recently, this brother killed his sister. She was raped by one of her family members and she went to the police for protection, OK, and the family knew about it.

He told me, OK, I met him in prison, and I met him outside prison. He only got six months for killing his sister, and he told me, we did everything to get her out of prison so I could killer, OK, so she goes to the police for protection, then they go and sign a guarantee -- it's a routine, like I said before, when they are held for protective custody.

They go and sign a guarantee so his family -- everybody went and signed a guarantee that she will not be hurt. They brought her back home, and he was waiting for her, and he killed her -- shot and killed her.

And I told him, why did you kill her, she was raped? At first he denied that she was raped, he tried to tell me that she was a bad girl. But knowing from experience that when she goes and turns herself in, this means that she knows that something is wrong, and most probably she was raped.

And then he later admitted that she was raped. And I told him, OK, why didn't you try to go after the person who raped her? He said, no, this will be a big hassle, you know, to involve tribal leaders and all that. So, it's not easy for them to kill a man as much as it's easy for them to kill a woman.

BOGAEV: Rana Husseini, thank you very much for talking with me today.

HUSSEINI: Sure, no problem.

BOGAEV: Rana Husseini reports on crime for the "Jordan Times."

This is a FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
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Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Rana Husseini
High: Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini writes for the "Jordan Times," the countries only English language daily. Her reporting on "crimes of honor" has brought to light the practice of a woman being murdered by her own relatives when it's thought the woman brought dishonor upon them. In one instance, a 16 year old schoolgirl was killed by her older brother because her younger brother raped her. Police and prosecutors have taken little notice of "honor killing," but that attitude has begun to shift because of Husseini's efforts. Last Fall she was presented the Reebok Human Rights Award in New York. Husseini received her bachelor's degree in Oklahoma.
Spec: Crime; Justice; Murders; Women; Rana Husseini

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Rana Husseini

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 10, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121002NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Lloyd Schwartz
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: The 39 year old German bass baritone, Thomas Quasthoff has been making a name for himself in the world of classical music. His personal story may be as moving as anything he sings about.

Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz heard him for the first time earlier this season, singing with the Boston Symphony, and was very impressed. Here's Lloyd's review of two of Quasthoff's recent recordings.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC: The first thing you notice when you see Thomas Quasthoff is his disability. He was a thalidomide baby born in 1959. He's barely four feet tall, and neither his hands nor arms are fully developed.

But once he begins to sing, what he looks like dwindles in significance compared, first, to the dark rich timbre of his voice. Then to the warmth, intelligence, honesty, and naturalness of his singing. Those were the words I kept overhearing in the corridors and stairwells of Boston Symphony Hall after his Boston Symphony debut last October.

Everyone in the audience seemed to sense how effortlessly he connected with both the notes and the words, and his recordings confirm that impression.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- BASS BARITONE SINGER THOMAS QUASTHOFF)

SCHWARTZ: It's revealing that Quasthoff's recordings concentrate on the composers Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann who leave singers most exposed. Composers for whom solid technique and vocal beauty are essential, but only as a means to reach something deeper than gorgeous vocal display.

Quasthoff's newest recording is Schubert's devastating song cycle "Winterreise" -- "A Winter Journey." The singer is passing through the village of the woman he still loves, but who has married someone else. Schubert's cycle, though, is less about lost love than about a kind of agonizing existential desolation.

The only hope, and it's just glimmer, lies in the creation of art. In these songs you can tell almost instantly if a singer is faking, and Quasthoff isn't faking.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- BASS BARITONE SINGER THOMAS QUASTHOFF PERFORMING SCHUBERT'S "WINTERREISE")

SCHWARTZ: I'm reluctant to equate Quasthoff's disability with his capacity for empathy. Few great singers have had to endure anything like what Quasthoff has gone through, yet they're still great.

It's Quasthoff's imagination, not his disability, that allows him to transform what he suffered into some deep human and artistic understanding. And it's his good luck to have an extraordinary instrument.

His Mozart album is a marvelous example of how much he can do. Five little known concert Arias and six famous Arias from Mozart's best loved operas explore a tremendous range of attitude and character. Quasthoff gives each role a subtly different tone quality, and he's equally convincing in each one.

Listen to his ardent, smoothly seductive "Don Giovanni" serenading his latest opportunity.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- BASS BARITONE SINGER THOMAS QUASTHOFF PERFORMING MOZART'S "DON GIOVANNI")

SCHWARTZ: Now, here's the Dons teasing insinuating sidekick, Leperello, presenting his list of his masters conquests. Cataloged by country, age, and body type.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP OF BASS BARITONE SINGER THOMAS QUASTHOFF PERFORMING MOZART'S "DON GIOVANNI")

SCHWARTZ: In interviews, Quasthoff speaks frankly about his limited possibilities for appearances in opera. He's turned down one offer to sing the title role of the Hunchback Jester in Verdi's "Rigoletto." A great role that could turn into a sideshow if not handled sensitively.

I'm glad he's not in a rush. A singer with his gift can afford to be selective, and I want him to be around for a long time.

BOGAEV: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the "Boston Phoenix." He reviewed recordings of Mozart and Schubert by bass baritone Thomas Quasthoff on RCA Red Seal.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Lloyd Schwartz
High: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews two recent recordings by the German bass baritone Thomas Quasthoff of Mozart and Schubert.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Thomas Quasthoff

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lloyd Schwartz

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 10, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121003NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Book critic Maureen Corrigan has gotten a jump on the holidays by reading Mark O'Donnell's comic novel about Christmas called, "Let Nothing You Dismay."

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: When I was little, my family would spend Christmas in Philadelphia with relatives, most of them Irish American. I remember those holidays as smelling of baked ham and whiskey, and ringing with the sounds of Gene Autry singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and lots and lots of laughter.

But at some point during this annual visit my dad would always pile a bunch of us into the car and drive out to Valley Forge. There, he would launch into his ritual Christmas story about General Washington's soldiers dying in the snow as they waited to row across the Delaware to surprise attack the Hessians on Christmas Eve in 177 -- well, nobody was to sure of the date.

By the time my dad was through we'd all be teary eyed, then the whole crowd would pile back into the car and drive home for restoratives; hot chocolate for the kids, a couple of shots for the adults, and the laughter would resume.

Is it only us Irish Americans who, driven by some genetically encoded sense of guilt, feel the need to flagellate ourselves with the Christmas tree tinsel? Maybe not, but as a people we've certainly perfected the art of mixing melancholy with hilarity during the holidays.

Case in point, Mark O'Donnell, whose delightfully comic Christmas novel, "Let Nothing You Dismay," scrupulously throws in one tale of woe, woe, woe per every three of its ho, ho, ho's. The main character in "Let Nothing You Dismay," is Tad Leary a leprechaunish looking gay man living in New York.

Tad has just been fired from his teaching job at an elite private school. He's about to be kicked out of his sublet, and he's still struggling to finish his folklore dissertation at a place called "The Alternative School." Whose motto, Tad says, might as well be "When you don't get in to the school you really want to go to."

The novel takes place on December 20th, a Sunday, when has been invited to seven different Christmas parties. One of them is a performance art event put on by Tad's friend Norman.

After the awful show, an audience member comments, "I enjoy this more than that one Norman did where all we saw for an hour was an empty stage while he was talking in the alley outside, because it was to personal for us to hear."

As snowfall blankets Manhattan, Tad trudges on to a dinner hosted by a successful old college friend. A superior kind of guy who, Tad feels, reads him like a book. And a book for junior readers at that.

But the holiday festivity that most exquisitely combines slapstick with suffering is, of course, the family gathering Tad dutifully attends. The party is held at his brother Les' townhouse. A few months earlier, Les unwittingly labotomized himself when he put a gun to his head because his business went bankrupt.

Les' wife, hoping to put a happy face on a dreadful holiday, has done caricatures of the whole family in gingerbread cookies. Tad's elderly parents are also nestled in, his alcoholic father right beside the booze bottles accompanied by his characteristically gloomy Irish mother who, Tad reflects, saw life as an anti-chamber where you wait for the x-ray results.

You don't have to be Irish American or even Christian to enjoy all this alternately merry and miserable holiday mishigoss (ph). O'Donnell strikes a silver bell of a comic note here, he's silly without being zany. And in the best tradition of Christmas tales, O'Donnell graces his novel with a happy ending.

Like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" who guided Santa's sleigh Tad, our red headed sad sack hero, finds that gay-dar has finally guided him to someone worth kissing under the mistletoe.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan reviewed "Let Nothing You Dismay" by Mark O'Donnell.

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Mark O'Donnel's new book, "Let Nothing You Dismay."
Spec: Entertainment; Holidays; Mark O'Donnell

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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