My End is My Beginning by Moris Farhi
Civilisation is on the brink of collapse. The people are controlled with Big Lies, mass surveillance and brutal suppression. What price would you pay for freedom?
Oric and his lover Belkis are part of a rebel band devoted to liberating people from totalitarian oppression. When Belkis is brutally murdered, Oric’s world is torn apart. Haunted by the thought that he could have done more to save her, he continues the fight for freedom that they began together. But Oric knows he doesn’t have long left before his nemeses, the self-professed Saviours, return for him too.
As the Saviours forge new alliances and grow ever-stronger, Oric must stay one step ahead to complete the mission he was born to fulfil. Here, in the darkest hour, Oric will discover that even the smallest of gestures can bring the greatest gift to mankind – hope.
Written as a fable, Moris Farhi’s final novel (published shortly before his death on 5th March 2020) is told with a combination of passion and compassion, shining a laser-like beam on a world which is instantly and disturbingly recognisable, reflecting on its past and present horrors and injustices, on those intent on sowing discord and abusing power, as well as on those who are brave enough to confront them.
The enduring love-story of Oric and Belkis is at the heart of this novel: as Dolphineros they believe that ‘death is a lie’ and that when they’re killed their lives won’t end. Instead, they’ll become shape-shifting Leviathans, enjoying eternal life and acting as mentors to future Dolphineros, supporting them in their roles as emissaries of peace.
The time-shifting storyline gradually reveals how Oric and Belkis, along with a group of like-minded freedom-fighters, have travelled the world on their missions to rescue oppressed, persecuted people, attempting to put right injustices and to make the world a better place. However, in their attempts they constantly face opposition from the world’s Saviours, those who retain power by using race, religion, gender, xenophobia etc to incite conflict, inflame bigotry and to play on people’s fears and anxiety. The use of such a benign name for dictators would appear to be counter-intuitive but, as dictators usually gain power by convincing enough people that they are acting in their best interests, this was just one example of the author’s wonderful use of satire throughout his storytelling.
So much of the disturbing power of this story lies in the fact that everything is immediately recognisable in the author’s parallel dystopian world – the myriad abuses of human rights, the evils of religious fundamentalism, genocide, the effects of climate change, economic and political corruption, nuclear weapons, to name just a few examples. However, as a counter-balance, equally recognisable are characters who are passionate upholders of human rights, willing to put their own lives at risk for what they believe in. Although there are many disturbing and distressing examples of tyranny, horror, injustice and abuse as the story unfolds, the author ends it on a convincing note of optimism – quite a remarkable achievement.
Moris Farhi’s writing is lyrical and compelling, imbued with what appears to be his deep-seated faith in the power of humanity, goodness and optimism. Throughout my reading I was constantly finding myself stopping to think about what he had written, either to simply appreciate his eloquent use of language, or to reflect on the ideas he was putting forward. Then, when I reached the end, I found myself wanting to turn back to the beginning and to immerse myself in it once again, not only to gain fresh insights, but to hold onto a belief that, ultimately, that injustices can be put right and that good will, ultimately, triumph over evil. With its explorations of the ongoing challenges we face in today’s world and the thought-provoking reflections on almost every page, this would be certainly be an ideal choice for book groups.
Born in Turkey in 1935, the author moved to the UK in 1954 and, alongside his prolific writing career, he was a passionate human rights activist throughout his life. He was a member of Amnesty International, tireless in campaigning for social justice and, for more than twenty-five years, was an active campaigner for PEN Writers in Prison Committee, for writers persecuted and/or imprisoned by repressive regimes, being elected Vice-President of International PEN in 2001. I’m not in the habit of including biographical information about an author but I’m doing so now because I believe that it is these autobiographical elements which give credence to the central authenticity of this life-affirming novel.
As I finish this review, continuing to reflect on the impact it has had on me, I like to imagine that Moris Farhi has now become a Leviathan and that, using his eternal humanity, empathy and optimism, is now in a position to guide and protect all those who are prepared to fight against injustice, whatever form it takes.
Personal read: 5*
Group read: 5*
Saqi Books 6th February 2020
ISBN: 978-0-86356-130-6 Paperback
Review by Linda Hepworth