Monday, December 17, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Fadil al-Qurtubi

In Sultana: Two Sisters, Fadil al-Qurtubi is the chief tormentor of Esperanza and Miriam, after they are captured by Moors on the plains of La Mancha. The paternal nephew of Ahmed al-Qurtubi, Fadil is a child in a man's body, possessing an innate cruel nature coupled with the willingness to act on his impulses. Inspiration for him came from film characters.

Adapted from Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, the film features actor Vincent Gallo as Jeremy Irons' bastard son sired through rape. When the boy first shows up with a demand from his mother that his paternity be recognized, his father dismisses him - a huge mistake. There's a quiet menace about the young man that's fully realized later as he exacts revenge on his father's family, especially his young half-sister Blanca, played by Winona Ryder. This is a character without empathy. Fadil also reminds me of Heath's Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight. With little clear information on his background, the character ramps up the violence from the start of the film and doesn't care how much damage is left in his wake. I went for the same lack of empathy and powerful brutality in the portrayal of Fadil. Like the Joker, his cruelty doesn't derive from any specific cause but he's hell-bent on getting what he wants. As with Vincent Gallo's character, Fadil serves as a reminder of what can happen when a youthful, wayward personality isn't corrected.  

I've often received the feedback from critique groups that every villain should have a cause, just like the protagonist. While Fadil does thwart Esperanza and Miriam's immediate goal of freedom, he isn't the true antagonist of this story - find out who is when this title's released next year. Instead, Fadil drives a wedge between Esperanza and Miriam, by highlighting the differences in their treatment during captivity. While he has a limited goal, the effect of it ensures devastating consequences. Fadil is the kind of villain who does the unexpected simply because he can and in doing so, his actions precipitate other conflicts.

From Esperanza's first meeting with Fadil, she knew she should be afraid. He introduces a capacity for violence with this scene:

Beneath a moonless evening, Esperanza’s captor dragged her from the black stallion. He shoved her next to a large, crumbling rock beside a desiccated stump, the only evidence of trees she had seen across the barren landscape. Her elbow banged against the stone so hard, tears pricked her eyes. She hung her head and bit her lip to stifle a cry. She would never give him the satisfaction of seeing the resultant pain etched in her features.
He licked cracked lips and cocked his head as if studying her. His stubby nose at the center of a pockmarked face disgusted her almost as much as the jagged scar rippling across his left cheek. During the furious ride, he had tied her wrists with hemp. Now, he knelt at her feet and reached for the fastenings of her zapatas
She lifted her leg and kicked him squarely in the chest. “Do not touch me, you ugly savage!”
The knife he had pressed to her ribs earlier reappeared in his copper-colored hand. She shrank against the stone as he raised the blade.

Unfortunately for Miriam, she bears the brunt of Fadil's excesses. She also develops an understanding of the young man's desires coupled with a determination to avenge the losses he has inflicted upon her:

Fadil thwarted Miriam’s contemplation of Esperanza, for he returned in haste and flopped on the ground. Water sloshed from the gourd and fed the parched and broken earth.
The careless fool grinned at her in his idiocy. “I have decided you will be mine. My uncle can have my share of the spoils. All I want is you. After you have delivered of this babe, I shall put another into your belly, one whom my uncle cannot sell as a slave. If you obey me, any children I sire upon you may have their freedom.”
She snatched the vessel from his grasp, tore a strip from the hem of her tattered saya and wadded the cloth before dipping it into the water. She swallowed her grief and sang for the tender child ripped from her clutches, a trilling melody about a mother and daughter preparing a meal on the eve of Shabbat. She used to sing it for Palomba, in days when Miriam imagined how her child might carry on the traditions of their faith. Now that would never be because of the animal lounging beside her.
The muscles in Miriam’s battered body throbbed with a deeper intensity than the yawning ache in her throat, the pain of tears she refused to shed. She scoured her face and arms, which bore reddened marks where Fadil had seized her on the previous night. Fresh bruises from the morning's violence marred her skin. She could count the layers of scratches, discolorations and scabs if she wished, recalling each moment where her captor had gripped her too hard, or shoved or slapped her. She would never permit herself to forget his cruelty.

Find out how these Esperanza and Esperanza attempt to survive their captivity among the Moors in Sultana: Two Sisters. Next time, meet the character Juan Manuel Gomero, who knows more about Esperanza's heritage than she may suspect.

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