Albert Russo
Albert Russo
"Art is but a moment of happiness, it is like a lightning of bliss cleaving the never-ending horrors of our world."

IDENTITY CRISIS, Waymade University, India

International conference held at Waymade College of Education, India 4 & 5/12/2021.

Since the theme of our dicussion is Identity crisis, let me give you a few clues concerning my background: My father was Sephardic Italian, my mother British, with relatives of various religions: Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, animist, and God knows what else, and I have cousins of mixed-blood in both Congo and Zimbabwe. I was born and raised in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Afterwards I studied at NYU and spent eight years in the Big Apple. Then nine years in Milan, Italy, one year in each of the following countries: Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, forty years in Paris, France and now Tel Aviv, Israel. English and French are my two ‘mother’ tongues, whilst Italian is my ‘paternal’ tongue. I also speak fluent Spanish and German, and still know some coloquial Swahili, or Kiswhahili, as well as a smattering of Hebrew. I can read Portuguese but cannot speak it. I compare myself to that tropical aquatic plant whose many roots spread out of the water.

POEMS:

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

They call me Gianni

They call me Jim

But also Dominic

In both genders

In every guise

     Whether it be Gianni, Jim or Dominic

     In the present tense as in the past

     First or third person

     We’re talking of the same person 

     With the difference that each one 

     Speaks in another tongue 

     Confounding strangers

     Claims the spiteful gossip

At  times Gianni and Jim will be one and the same

At times they will oppose each other

Sometimes they might act as total strangers

And so it goes for both Dominics

     The distance between them may be paper thin

     Or else wide as the ocean

     That which separates two languages

     Or lies, mute, within the blood cells

IDENTITY

who are you who inhabits

that body of mine?

what makes me me

and not he or she

or it, for that matter?

how I’d wish I could

distance myself

from that inquisitive guy

who watches over 

my every move

sucks in every breath I breathe

how I’d wish I would 

not have to share with him

that pervasive intimacy

which can be so sickening

even obscene at times

it is like lying 

on the operating table

and watching your own heart 

being removed 

then transplanted

then removed again

there are dreams, of course

but here too, the obsession 

doesn’t seem to cease

and I catch myself in limbo

undergoing the autopsy 

of my own body

how tired I am of being me

that persona at once

so familiar and so strange

almost alien

when his mind rebels

and his nerves take over

doing exactly the opposite

of what I would want him to do

 I dreamt once that all the mirrors

around me had disappeared

and I felt like a breeze of liberation

I shall thus read a few poems of mine and excerpts of novels to illustrate our theme.

My first novels were set in Africa, where I had lived for 17 years.  It was then much later that my original novels appeared in English, in North America, Europe, India, and South Africa. I write in three different styles.  Serious historical and autobiographical novels set in the pre- and postcolonial DRC, the former Belgian Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and South Africa, that constitute my AFRICAN QUATUOR which will come out later this month with the prestigious Swedish House, l’Aleph / Wisehouse Publications:  namely MIXED BLOOD or ADOPTED BY AN AMERICAN HOMOSEXUAL IN THE BELGIAN CONGO, EUR-AFRICAN EXILES, PRINCES & GODS and LÉODINE OF THE BELGIAN CONGO. Another novel is I-SRAELI SYNDROME, set in Africa, Italy, and Israel.  Apart from my poetry written in both English and French – see my big book THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, volume 2 -, I write short stories, mainly in English, – they are in my other big book THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, volume 1. I also write humorous stories; they have recently been assembled in the large volume GOSH ZAPINETTE! (almost 800 pages), the first-ever series of global humor, published in Allahabad, India by cyberwit.net.  My most recent novel, co-written with the excellent Canadian writer Jeanette Skirvin is TEL AVIV’S ETHIOPIAN QUEEN. Last, but not least, is the big book of poems, GAYTUDE, which I penned with my friend, the multi-talented Renaissance African-American, Adam Donaldson Powell.  My work has been translated worldwide in about 15 languages, from Polish to Turkish, Bengali to Chinese, Greek to Dutch, Hebrew …All in all, I have lived on 4 continents . 

www.albertrusso.com  NOVEL EXCERPTS

From my novel MIXED BLOOD OR YOUR SON LÉOPOLD aka ADOPTED BY AN AMERICAN HOMOSEXUAL IN THE BELGIAN CONGO

THE LETTER, written by young Léopold

Dear Papa,

A question has been haunting me lately. At first I thought I could keep it to myself but now I have nightmares about it. You told me to open my heart to you in case I had any doubts.

Well, I don’t know what to call it and each time I have wanted to approach you I have had to back out at the last moment, feeling it would be to no avail.

Yet, as the days have gone by, the question has began to weigh unbearably upon me, papa. Why did you adopt me? Wouldn’t it have been…wiser if you had had a white boy for a son? Sometimes I ask myself whether I deserve you, then when I think of Mama Malkia I feel terribly grateful that she should be with us. And yet there is this weight I’ve mentioned. It’s like a boulder in my chest, a boulder that is hollow inside. Something there is missing, papa, something I cannot pinpoint. Until recently I believed that I should deem myself lucky to go to school with European boys, to live in such a wonderful home.

But the others, papa, they don’t treat me like a European, and I shall never be one. Am I not half Congolese? Then why do I feel a total stranger among blacks, with the exception, of course, of Mama Malkia?

It seems ridiculous but last night in my prayers I pleaded with God to work a miracle on me. Yes, papa, I wished I were wholly of one race and not a café-au-lait. In body and soul I feel so…inappropriate, so unachieved. These are perhaps the wrong words but you do see what I mean, don’t you?

The other day I thought it would be simpler for all of us if I disappeared. But I am a coward, papa, I am afraid of what might happen to me, and it is true that I don’t ever want to lose you.

It’s funny but as I write this letter I have the impression my pen is being guided by someone else, another me (?) I am meeting for the first time.

Is it the voice of my real mother or that of the father I have never seen? Whom do I resemble? For sure, I’m not bound to hear: “Léo, you’re the spitting image of your American granddad.”

Just don’t laugh! Papa, is granddad the reason why you left the United States?

You did tell me once, a long time ago, that an unloving parent was ten times worse than no parent at all. Does he really…hate you? Even today? Because of how you are? Will I also never get married? Oh papa, forgive me, I don’t know what pushes me to ask you all this. My mind is so hazy. Help me put some order in it.

One thing I have absolutely no doubt about. I shall always remain…

your son Léopold

 

This is from Harry Wilson’s diary:

Léo’s letter baffles me, yet sooner or later it had to happen. He wants to know why I adopted him instead of a white boy. My sweet Léopold! He’ll be thirteen. He’s already so tall and so terribly handsome. And he knows he’s my life and soul.

Why does he use the debasing term ‘café-au-lait’? He would have preferred to be wholly of one race. But this is how I love him.

We travel by air and will one day reach the moon, we talk long distance over the phone and tune into the news to learn what’s taking place at the other end of the planet. People claim to be so modern and yet, deep down, they’re pathetically backward. They see the métis, the Jew, the Hindu and remain blind to the human being. It’s in the intermingling of cultures, in the mixture of races, that our future lies.

My Léo, you are the man of tomorrow, but of course they don’t want to hear of it; they’re not ready for you. Have I been too selfish or simply naive in believing I could change something in society, be it on such a personal level? Both, probably.

But no one could or will ever make me regret this choice. Yes, I did take a tremendous risk, and we will have to fight against the odds. It is scary at times but Léo is everything I stand for. He feels guilty that I send him to a European school. And that he’s estranged from his Congolese brethren. There was no other alternative… or was there?  I couldn’t have left him with the missionaries.  After all, he has Mama Malkia, and she’s a terrific mother to him.  I wish sometimes he weren’t so susceptible.  It’s this trait in him that worries me. Take his Jewish friend, Ishaya. Ishaya won’t let anyone tread on him. But toughness isn’t something that can be instilled in Léo.

Here is the synopsis of my novel, co-written with Canadian author Jeanette Skirvin, it is entitled:

TEL AVIV’S ETHIOPIAN QUEEN, Ziva Hamalka, a four-hands concerto by Albert Russo & Jeanette Skirvin, which came out this year with my Swedish publisher.

Ziva, a young Ethiopian Israeli who has a Ph D in Social science and psychology, takes care of difficult teenagers, whether they are Israeli or immigrants – illegal or not, including Palestinian adolescents who have been chased away by their parents from Gaza or the West Bank, because of their politics or their sexual orientation. Among the people Ziva looks after is Haniya, an undocumented Jordanian transgender aged 15 who rebels and flees the shelter. The day she is about to commit a terror attack against Israeli guards on the border with Gaza, she comes face to face with an Ethiopian woman soldier who reminds her so much of Ziva, that she falls to the ground and opens her vest, showing her belt of explosives. She will be judged, go to a correctional institution for two years, and when she is out, the first thing she does is return to the shelter, a transformed person whose main purpose will be to help her companions become strong and responsible members of the Israeli society.  Then there is Ismael, an Arab Israeli youth, raped by his uncle, who leaves his family home, Immanuel, a young Jewish Orthodox, who is openly gay and also flees from his Jerusalem ghetto, and finally there is young Yael, a Jewish girl from India. While having a drink at a terrace in Sarona with her parents, two Palestinian terrorists mowed down 15 people, killing her parents and severely injuring her.  These are the characters of the novel, with, last, but not least, Ziva’s lover, Clifford, an American computer engineer who has moved to Tel Aviv.

I shall read the opening poem:

CALL OF THE FALASHA

(by the way Falasha is a misnomer for Ethiopian Jews)

You’re wondering how old I am,

Touch my skin, bristle as ash spray.

Do I remind you of Pharaoh’s youngest son

or rather of his mummified self?

Look into my eyes, for soon they will turn up

Like the countless pairs of eyes

that have nothing more to tell.

And let not the creaking of my bones distract you.

There, beyond the haze, lie the mountains of Seimen,

Gondar and Tigray, our ancestral home.

Look deep into those eyes.

My story goes back almost 3,000 years.

It was during the reign of King solomon;

having sailed the Red Sea and walked under

the burning sun of Egypt.

We reached this land of gold, land of the peacocks.

You are staring at my stomach,

Then feel how bloated it is, the calabash has dried up,

Emptying itself of illusions.

Look back into my eyes.

I shall not rejoin the thousands of sisters and brothers,

Whose blood courses again through Zion’s arteries,

Poisoning, some say, the blood of ‘Palestine’.

There is a rainbow now across the sky.

At last the soul of the eternal stranger has been released.

And, like David, speaking to the Lord, before his death,

The ageless Falasha murmured:

“But who am I, and what is my people,

For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners,

As were all our fathers, our days on earth are as a shadow,

And there is none abiding.”

Here is my latest novel

Three colors of the rainbow :  Arco’s fabled Paris, Venice and New york, which I have self-published with KDP / Amazon, but which my Swedish publisher will redeem in the Spring of 2022.

Three colors of the rainbow – three cities, three microcosms, Paris, Venice, New York, different facets, different mentalities, Arco, my protagonist, encompassing the three.  Does he embrace all three, the way he embraces his love for his French wife and that for his Venitian male lover?  Entre les deux, mon coeur balance !

I miss Italy.  I miss strangers who speak to you, even when they are nosy.  Ok, sometimes they get on my nerves.  Is it better to be around these Parisians to whom you are invisible and who turn to you only when they have something unpleasant to say?  Compared to Rome or Naples,Milan is supposed to be a cold city.  Compared to Paris, it’s the sunny Mediterranean.  In reality, the sun is often veiled by pollution, and the climate is perhaps the worst in Europe.  Venice comes close, with its damp winters and its suffocating summers.  Ah, la bella Italia !  But how about France, mère des Armes, des Arts et des Lois ! (France, Mother of Arms, of Arts and of Laws), which is the title of a beautiful poem by Joachim Du Bellay.  As for New York, rain, drizzle, dirt or snow, I can’t live without it.  I now have three passports, Italian, American and French.  Oh là là, do I feel suddenly humble!  Meanwhile life goes on, with my heart split between Margo, my lovely Parisian wife and Flavio, my dashing, jealous Venitian lover, entre les deux, mon coeur balance.”

 

TO MY FELLOW POETS

 

a scathing review

should not cast you in a trance 

tho your blood cries out

are you stuck with words? 

then string them around your neck 

they will set you free

whatever they say

remember Kipling’s advice 

about self-control

a drop of honey

a taste of eternity 

wrapped in syllables

thanks to the haiku 

you can recreate the world 

or leave not a trace

before man could speak 

he knew poetry 

by intuition

foreign relations 

is the language one uses 

when love has no place

like ships in the night 

like clouds shredding in the blue 

like your closing heart

the boat is sinking 

but who thinks of the havoc 

wrought in the ocean

travel to the stars 

with your bag of memories 

and earth’s illusions

in desperation

let dreams carry you away 

they’ll color your pain

About the Author
Albert Russo who has published worldwide over 85 books of poetry, fiction and essays (35) and photography (50), in both English and French, his two mother tongues, and sometimes in Italian, (Italian being his 'paternal' tongue) - he also speaks Spanish and German and still has notions of Swahili -, is the recipient of many awards,such as The New York Poetry Forum and Amelia (CA) Awards, The American Society of Writers Fiction Award, The British Diversity Short Story Award, The AZsacra International Poetry Award (Taj Mahal Review - US$ 500), the Books & Authors Award, several Writer’s Digest poetry and fiction Awards (winner and finalist), aquillrelle Awards, the Prix Colette and the Prix de la Liberté, among others. His work has been translated into about 15 languages in 25 countries, on the five continents. He has co-published Gaytude with Adam Donaldson Powell, which won Best Gay Book in the USA. Albert Russo’s major books are the AFRICAN QUATUOR (AQ), his memoir CALL ME CHAMELEON (CMC), his humorous ZAPINETTE Series (Zapy), GOSH ZAPINETTE, the first ever series of global Jewish humor, his books of stories and of poetry encompassing 40 years of writing, entitled: THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, vol. 1 -CWS1 (the stories and essays) and THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, vol. 2 (the poems) CWS2 + the two big books dedicated to his beloved mother Sarah Russo (SR) + about 50 books of photos. His definitive biography penned by the Norwegian African-American writer, poet and artist Adam Donaldson Powell, UNDER THE SHIRTTAILS OF ALBERT RUSSO was released by l’Aleph (November 2017), Wisehouse Publishing. A humanist with roots in Central, Southern Africa, and the Mediterranean, he has been acclaimed by James Baldwin, Edmund White, Martin Tucker, Douglas Parmee of Oxford University, Joseph Kessel, Pierre Emmanuel, both of the Académie Française, among many other literary authorities, as well as by his African peers, Chinua Achebe among them. Albert Russo was also a member of the 1996 jury for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature which often leads to the Nobel Prize of Literature. Latest Prize: Best 2013 Unicef Short Story award in defense of childhood worldwide, for Revenge by proxy / Vengeance par procuration.  His 50-odd books of photography have garnered awards in the USA, UK, Russia, France, etc. Some of his work has been exhibited in the Louvre Museum, at the Espace Pierre Cardin, both in Paris, in Times Square, New York, at the Museum of Photography in Lausanne, Switzerland, in Art Berlin, in Tokyo, in Moscow, etc. The former Mayor of the Big Apple, Mr Bloomberg, has lauded his two photo books on Paris and New York. Some of his novels and memoirs have also been filmed in English, with videos 90 and 100 minutes long. Latest award: I have just received the following award. "Dear Albert, It is with great pleasure to announce that you have been selected as a Book Excellence Award Finalist for the following book: 'GOSH ZAPINETTE! the first ever series of global humor’ (770 pages). There were hundreds of entries from around the world and 'GOSH ZAPINETTE! the first ever series of global humor' was selected for its high-quality writing, design and market appeal. Congratulations. The Book Excellence Award Committee.” The Book Excellence Awards Advantage. More than just an awards competition, the Book Excellence Awards provides authors and publishers with extended support and resources on topics such as publishing, marketing, writing, publicity and social media. The Book Excellence Awards is a smart investment on your publishing journey and the results and benefits will last a lifetime! Literary website: www.albertrusso.com - "Art is but a moment of happiness, it is like a lightning of bliss cleaving the never-ending horrors of our world." Albert Russo “Inspiration is like delicious food that your taste buds remember, or a perfume you have long forgotten and whose whiff suddenly brushes your nostrils again, giving you pangs of nostalgia.” Albert Russo
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