Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image

Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image

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by Anne Sebba

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Mother Teresa of Calcutta--no figure alive today has received the adulation that she has, and she is frequently cited as the living embodiment of Christian kindness. Recipient of numerous humanitarian awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, she had been characterized as a living saint and commands unrivaled international attention, even at the highest levels. Yet the


Mother Teresa of Calcutta--no figure alive today has received the adulation that she has, and she is frequently cited as the living embodiment of Christian kindness. Recipient of numerous humanitarian awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, she had been characterized as a living saint and commands unrivaled international attention, even at the highest levels. Yet the respect she has received has not been unanimous, and since 1990 serious criticisms have been directed at this modern icon, who had once seemed beyond reproach.

In this fascinating biography Anne Sebba reveals the truth behind Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. She considers her attitudes toward abortion (women who have had abortions are hailed as murderers), rape (women who have been raped are given no help in terminating their pregnancy), her association with dictators such as the Duvaliers in Haiti, her medical negligence (inadequate use of painkillers, reuse of unsterilized needles), her ethics (she accepted hundreds of thousands of stolen dollars from S&L financier Charles Keating).

Alongside these unflattering aspects, this work also considers the highlights of her dedication to the sick, dying and destitute, and looks at the motivation that drives Mother Teresa. Hers is an extraordinary life, full of paradox. She has enormous courage, love and determination, and her work poses some of the most profound questions of our age.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this substantialand sadly timelybiography, freelance journalist Sebba refuses to canonize Mother Teresa as a "living saint." Instead, drawing upon interviews with friends and critics of Mother Teresa, she explores the historical, very human and questionable aspects of the life and work of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Part one explores the biographical details of Mother Teresa's life from her early years and religious calling in Albania and her increasing international reputation that culminated in her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 to the strong criticism of Mother Teresa and her work by Christopher Hitchens in his 1994 film Hell's Angel. Part two collects the voices of the supporters and the foes of Mother Teresa's views on medicine, theology and politics. In each section, Sebba allows these two groups to express their views of Mother Teresa in their own words. Critics of Mother Teresa most often question what they perceive to be her desire for control and power and her unwillingness to help the sick get better by using available medical technology or by surrounding herself with appropriate medical personnel. Sebba also collects voices that are critical of Mother Teresa's anti-contraception position in a nation plagued by overpopulation, and of her association with controversial political figures like Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Friends of Mother Teresa describe a woman committed to her vow of ministering to the poor through the lovingkindness of mere physical touching. Many friends also describe Mother Teresa as a woman of uncompromising vision and determination whose ability to manipulate the press and politicians helped her build her mission organization. In an epilogue, Sebba briefly recounts the election of Sister Nirmala as Superior General of the Order. By allowing both friends and foes of Mother Teresa to speak for themselves, Sebba strives for a balanced look "beyond the image" at the life and work of Mother Teresa. In the end, though, Sebba still concludes that "in spite of all the criticism leveled against her, Mother Teresa gave people the opportunity to express their love for their fellow human beings." (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
This surprisingly nuanced biography of the international icon of humanitarianism, neither shies away from nor revels in controversy.

Sebba, a British journalist and author of a children's book on Mother Teresa, has laced this biography with thought-provoking ethical questions. Though the book jacket promises to reveal "the truth" about Mother Teresa's friendly relations with the Duvaliers of Haiti, her unscrupulous financial dealings, and other salacious tidbits, the book itself intelligently transcends the genre of the muckraking biography. Part I is a straightforward chronological narrative of Mother Teresa's childhood in Albania, her early association with the Loreto order, and her 1947 exodus from it to found the Missionaries of Charity. Part II outlines some of the criticisms the order has endured in the last decade; political and fiscal dealings aside, some of the most damning charges have been lodged by the international medical community regarding the quality of care provided in Mother Teresa's facilities. Stories of unhygienic conditions abound. One volunteer reported seeing a nurse using the same filthy rag to wipe the bottom of one baby, then the nose of another; the same needles reportedly provide injections to multiple patients; and painkillers are often not prescribed, even to the terminally ill. Sebba probes beneath the surface of these allegations to discover their root in Mother Teresa's theology of suffering. The nun has indicated repeatedly that she finds a redemptive value in suffering, and Sebba sees this as a potentially dangerous sentimentalization. She also discusses Mother Teresa's much-publicized opposition to abortion and contraception, and ultimately concludes that her absolutist stance against contraception makes her social ministries more of a Band-Aid than a cure.

Finally, Sebba dares to ask why Mother Teresa has been so lionized in the West, suggesting that her apotheosis has much to do with assuaging white guilt for India's grinding poverty.

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The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
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Nineteen-ten was a tumultuous year in Albania. It was a momentous year for the Bojaxhiu family too. On 26 August this Catholic Albanian family, one of the more prominent in the struggle for an autonomous Albania, was celebrating the birth of a healthy baby daughter. Agnes, the third child of Nikola and Dranafile, was born in Skopje, capital of the vilayet of Kosova, in Northern Macedonia. She had an elder sister Age, born in 1904, and elder brother Lazar, born in 1907.

These were heady times for Albanian nationalists who by the early twentieth century had a clearly developed sense of their own cultural identity but no independent state. For so long Albania had been used as a buffer between the interests of Austria-Hungary and those of the Slavs in the Balkans. None of the Balkan states wanted to see an independent Albania which, once the Ottoman Empire crumbled, would be harder to carve up among themselves. However, the Young Turks, who took over power in Istanbul in 1908, gave assurances that Albanians would be granted relative autonomy and, briefly, in the years before Agnes' birth, a new spirit of freedom flourished. The Albanians believed they were to be given a constitution, which would grant equal rights to all nationalities, Christian and Muslim alike, and for twelve days there was jubilant feasting and dancing. But the Young Turks soon reneged on their promises, declared that there was no such thing as Albanian nationality and looked for savage new ways to weaken the growing Albanian National Movement. They passed a number of laws to reinforce central authority and sent troops to crush any resistance movements. In the spring of 1910, in the face of Young Turk insistence on the use of the traditional Arabic script, Albanians from north to south mounted huge popular gatherings in favour of adopting the much simpler and Western-leaning Latin alphabet. This was considered an important step towards claiming a new national identity.

The most serious uprising broke out in Pristina, in the north-east, in March 1910 after the population refused to pay new and severe taxes levied from Istanbul on imported goods. The revolt soon spread throughout Kosova before it was brutally suppressed by a 20,000-strong army. However, the severity with which the rebellion was crushed -- whole villages were razed to the ground and the punishments meted out to Albanian leaders included public floggings -- did little to dampen incipient nationalism and served only to strengthen demands for autonomy. By August the Ottoman forces had regained control of the area but only after many refugees had fled, and a new reign of terror throughout Albania had begun. By 1911, following the devastation of war, thousands of Albanian families faced illness and destitution.

Nikola Bojaxhiu, a prosperous building contractor and wholesale-food importer, travelled frequently in the region and was thus able to keep in touch with political realities and with his friends among the rather loose-knit nationalist leadership. He even went as far as Egypt, where there was an important Albanian colony supplying money and arms to the Nationalists. Over the next two turbulent years leading up to the First Balkan War of 1912, he was in close contact with several of the nationalist leaders, and politics was frequently discussed at home.

Spring 1912 was a season of shifting allegiances as the Balkan states formed an alliance to divide the European Ottoman possessions between themselves. Landlocked Serbia was hoping to prevent the rise of a new and independent Albania and to annex Kosova and Northern Albania. By the summer of that year, the Albanians were no longer able to remain neutral and found themselves fighting on the side of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire against the Balkan armies. Within months, however, once the Serbs were occupying Skopje, the outlook appeared very grim for the national aspirations of the Albanians. It was only the realisation by Austria that an independent Albania was vital if Serbia's expansionist aims of gaining a port and stretching to the Adriatic were to be blocked that led to the proclamation, on 28 November 1912 at the Congress of Vlore, of the independent state of Albania. Here the black double-headed eagle on a red background, emblem of Skanderbeg, the fifteenth-century Albanian Christian hero who fought against the Ottoman invaders, was finally raised in triumph.

But the future of this fledgling country was far from secure when it was further discussed at the Conference of Ambassadors in London a month later. The pragmatism of some of the elderly statesmen present, including Sir Edward Grey of Britain, forced the ambassadors to recognise that the new country had been designed not for the good of its own inhabitants but to appease the interests of the Great Powers. More than half the Albanian population, including the Bojaxhius in Skopje and their cousins in Kosova, was left outside the borders of the new Albanian state.

As the leaders talked, Serbian atrocities, particularly against Albanian Catholics, redoubled. Serb hatred of Albanians was long-standing but these massacres were fuelled by rumours that the Great Powers intended to assign to Albania all districts where the Albanians had a 75 per cent majority. `It is locally supposed that the Serbians wish to adjust the population to conform with their claim to have a majority in the district. These massacres are taking place for statistical purposes,' the British Vice Consul in Skopje wrote in 1913. `I am beginning to suspect', he added, `that much of the Albanian population is being murdered in cold blood.'

The Vice Consul, W. D. Peckham, went on to explain to the British Ambassador in Belgrade, Sir Ralph Paget, that he now believed that a prima facie case had been made for the Albanian claim that the Serbian military was responsible for deliberately throwing wounded Albanians into the river Vardar to die. `A statement which I heard at the time, that "the Albanian wounded are healing with remarkable rapidity" takes, in the light of this story, a new and sinister significance,' he commented dryly. Peckham then elaborated for his superior in Belgrade the root cause of the problem. `A remark I heard some time ago from a Serbian throws light on the mental attitude of the Serb to the Albanian. This gentleman, a person of some education, who spoke fluent French, arranged the first steps of the ladder of life as first, man; second, gorilla; third, Albanian. A peasant would probably put the Albanian lower down, along with the insect pests.'

Vice Consul Peckham had been kept well informed of the atrocities by the Catholic curate of Skopje, who had paid him an urgent visit on 27 February 1913 along with his colleague, the curate of Ferisovich. Even allowing for the fact that both priests were Catholic and Albanian and `have therefore a double motive for exaggerations to the detriment of the orthodox Serb', Peckham was still disturbed. He had heard from the two priests details of thousands of horrific deaths and hundreds of cases of torture since the Serbian occupation began. He learnt of Serbian soldiers entering the house of an Albanian family in Skopje, raping the wife and beating the husband until he told where his two daughters aged fourteen and sixteen were and then raping them too. In a nearby village rampaging soldiers fired into houses to drive out inhabitants who were hidden in the roofs. As the women came out they were shot; to save powder the children were bayoneted. There were stories of soldiers and officers robbing peasants of their money as they came back from market, of men being hung from trees by the arms until they died, of parties of poor Albanians going out to collect firewood only to find themselves surrounded by soldiers and shot. In some cases men were imprisoned simply for speaking to the Catholic priest. Not only would the Bojaxhiu family have known of these events, they would probably have been directly involved. One of the hospitals to which the wounded were sent was staffed by Catholic nursing sisters and the family was closely involved in the small Catholic community.

Occasionally Albanians did the killing -- as in Dibra, when they attacked looting Serbian soldiers. But then Serbian revenge was swift, on this occasion twenty-four entire villages were burnt down. At Pristina on or about 23 October 1912, on the admission of a Serbian military doctor, some 5,000 Albanians were killed. They were tied together and mowed down by machine-gun fire. Vice Consul Peckham was able to corroborate this particular allegation as he had heard independent confirmation of extensive Albanian massacres at Pristina from an Albanian army doctor, who stated that the Albanians were placed between hurdles and then machine-gunned.

As the First Balkan War resolved almost nothing, few were surprised when the Second Balkan War erupted, which resolved little more. The statesmen and intellectuals of Europe laboured under the belief that nationalism was a good thing and the watchword of progress. They hoped and believed that, in the fragmentation of old empires, a separate national existence for each race was to be the key to a lasting European peace. They failed to foresee either the strengthening of Germany or that their plans largely ignored such important national needs as economic organisation. To an extent the new frontiers became barriers in a negative sense: peoples who had previously been in economic or political contact with each other became cut off.

In June 1913, Ottoman troops left Albania after 500 years of occupation and in November the Powers selected a German prince, William of Weid, as head of the new principality. But while the final settlement of the new state was postponed, Serbia continued to balk at the very creation of Albania, which it viewed as depriving it of an exit to the sea, continued to despise the Albanian people and continued to ignore international ultimata to leave Albanian territory. In addition, Italy began to intrigue against the new and inexperienced Prince and found a number of ambitious Albanians who were only too ready to collaborate. William of Weid lasted six months, but the Serb atrocities persisted until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, which gave Albania's old enemies, particularly Bulgaria, a fresh opportunity to move in for whatever land they thought they could grab.

The Skopje into which Agnes Bojaxhiu was born was, therefore, a violent and brutal place, with brigandage on the road, vendettas in the mountains, unstable leadership and an unsettled future. But there was another side. Early-twentieth-century Skopje had evolved from an ancient civilisation and had been continuously inhabited from pre-Christian times. In the thirteenth century it had been captured by the Serbs before it fell to the Turks a century later. A bridge over the river Vardar was said to have been rebuilt in the fifteenth century on the foundations of a bridge constructed when the area was a Roman province. In fact Christianity spread into Albania along the route of the Via Egnatia, replacing the pantheistic religions of the Illyrian tribes. But, after the conquest of the Ottoman Turks, Islam soon became the majority religion, although Christianity proved tenacious in the mountainous regions, especially in the north.

Skopje, or Uskub as it was then called, was described by one traveller in the early part of the century as a quiet and sober town, `nestled in a valley of death. Tombstones are always the prominent feature of a Turkish town but Uskub resembles an oasis in a desert of dead. Acres of them in general disorder, a few erect but mostly toppling or fallen surround the town and stretch long arms into it; they flank the main road and dot the side streets and far out into the country. Lone deserted stones stand where no man's hand has been for ages. The sight is gruesome and one's mind is wont to picture the many massacres that have made this sea of silent slabs.'

Because Catholic Albanians were such a small part of the Albanian population -- estimated at about one-tenth of the total -- they clung tenaciously to their faith, which the Austrians, for their own reasons, were keen to protect. This gave them a right to advance rival claims in the region against Russian support for the Serbs. One of the most important events in the calendar for Skopje's Roman Catholic community was the service for the feast of Corpus Christi held at the big church which was very close to the Bojaxhiu home. An American journalist who happened to be passing through a few years before Agnes was born was struck by the colourful nature of the festivities. `It was a dusty summer day and the church was decorated with garlands of mountain flowers and many flags. A vast Mohammedan banner floated from one side of the Christian belfry and an equally large emblem of the Dual Monarchy from the other and strings of bunting, alternately Turkish or Austro-Hungarian, streamed away from the tower to the high mud walls about the churchyard. Over the door, where only the Catholics entered and could see, hung a large print of Francis Joseph much bemedalled.'

Hundreds of Albanians were converging on the place from all directions. The American who slipped in with them described:

the darkened church aglow with many candles around the crucified Christ and the fourteen stations of the cross set like little chapels about the courtyard contained life-sized pictures of the saviour's labour to the crucifixion. During the indoor service the Albanian women, veiled like their Mohammedan sisters, occupied one side of the church and the men the other. In the pew of honour sat the Austrian reformajis in full feather.

At the conclusion of the indoor service on Corpus Christi day, priests and people left the church chanting, each carrying a lighted candle and made a tour of the stations kneeling and praying a few moments at each. Little flower girls, dressed in gayest shalvas, preceded the procession scattering rose leaves. Two proud Albanian boys swung the incense lamps and four others bore a panoply of silk over the heads of the priests. First behind the priests came the Count and Christian Vali and then followed the Austrian consul and other Austrian officers and the people. The ordeal of kneeling in the grass was trying to the trousers of the Count and painful to the rheumatic limbs of the venerable Christian Vali, whom the Count was required to assist to his feet on each occasion.

It was a windy day and the candles borne gingerly at arm's length sputtered and spattered the gorgeous uniform and frock coat. The delegates at their divine duties wore on their faces, I must say, most unholy expressions and at the conclusion of the ceremony the poor old Christian with the fez presented the appearance of having eaten his supper without stuffing the end of a napkin in his collar. Religion and politics make an unhappy mixture; they war within one like custard and cucumbers.

This same American described another aspect of religious life in Skopje. The Christian burial ground was behind the Turkish one and to the side of the Hotel Turati.

The Christians do not carry their dead on their shoulders but convey the corpse on a litter to lower it into a wooden coffin in the grave. Priests precede the funeral parade on foot in all vestments chanting as they march and friends follow the body, one carrying the coffin lid. A strange sacrifice for the dead takes place quarterly. The peasants gather from far and near bringing cakes and pans of boiled wheat of the best they can afford and place them on the graves of the dead. Candles are stuck about the food and tinsel paper cut in fine shreds arranged over it. Priests pass from grave to grave praying with the peasants for the souls of the departed and sons of the priests [sic] who serve as acolytes swing censers. At the conclusion of the ceremony the sacrificial food is distributed to the poor -- or rather the poorer -- and lazy gypsies gather with many naked babies at the border of the cemetery.

In spite of the ubiquitous beggars, gypsies and `naked urchins', Skopje was an attractive town in the early part of the century. There was a covered bazaar at one end but craftsmen displayed their pottery, usually jugs and urns, at various street corners. Many of the shops, situated on wide pavements either side of the cobbled streets, sported large awnings and balconies.

It is not known exactly when Nikola and Dranafile came to Skopje, as the Bojaxhiu family originated from the Kosova town of Prizren, to the north of Skopje. It was here in 1878 that Albanian Nationalist leaders came together to form the Prizren League, vowing to fight for autonomy for Albania. Prizren was an important trading city in medieval times which ultimately became part of Yugoslavia and was known for its silver filigree jewellery, carpets and fine embroidery. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was hit by a cholera outbreak and some of the Bojaxhiu family may have moved away at that time. According to Lazar in a later interview with an Italian newspaper, some went to Scutari, where there was in 1930 a Bojaxhiu Street. The Bojaxhius have been described as a large, long-established, merchant-trading family with wide-ranging business interests. One biographer of Mother Teresa has suggested that the family may once have traded in paints, as boja means colour. However the standard translation of the Albanian word bojaxhiu is whitewasher, or house painter.

For centuries the Albanian people had been divided into two distinct groups, Ghegs and Tosks, with different dialects and great variations in social structures. The Bojaxhius were Ghegs, the group which lived in the mountainous region of the north and who were organised along tightly knit tribal lines. The Tosks lived in the lowlands and plains of the south and were largely made up of landless or subsistence-level peasantry. Some tribes in the inaccessible mountain regions lived by laws known as the Kanun of Lek, dating from the fifteenth century or before. The Kanun was a highly complex legal code which attempted to regulate the blood feuds or vendettas that even today Albanian rulers have not managed to stamp out. Countless young men, often from Catholic families, were wiped out in these revenge killings, which could be perpetuated for generations.

It is probable that Nikola, who spoke Turkish, French and Italian in addition to his native Albanian and Serbo-Croat, was recruited to the Nationalist cause while he lived in Prizren. According to some accounts it was there that he met his future wife, Dranafile Bernaj (or Bernai), whose family apparently owned estates in Serbia. Others, including the authorised biography of Mother Teresa by Eileen Egan, describe the mother of Age, Lazar and Agnes as having come from the Venetian region. Egan says the couple were married in a Catholic ceremony in Prizren. Lazar has pointed out that his mother's Italian origins did not mean she was not Albanian. In fact her given name, generally shortened to Drana, meant Rose in Albanian. It is this name, spelled Roza, which appears today on her gravestone in Tirana, Albania.

Most accounts of Agnes' childhood describe it as comfortable and prosperous. It appears that Nikola was extremely successful and owned several houses. The home they lived in was a large one with a pleasant garden and flowers and fruit trees, on the same street as the Church of the Sacred Heart. Young Agnes was `plump, round and tidy' and soon acquired the nickname Gonxha, meaning flowerbud, by which she is still known in Albania. Lazar would say in later years that she was always sensible and a little too serious for her age, the one who did not steal the jam when he did. If Agnes ever discovered him helping himself on the quiet she would reprimand her elder brother reminding him that he was not to touch food after midnight if they were going to mass and communion with their mother in the morning. But she never told tales on him.

Nikola, known as Kole, was a good-looking man with a bushy moustache who lived a very full life. He became a member (the only Catholic) of the Skopje town council, regularly played in a Skopje brass band and loved to sing. `He was full of life and liked to be with people. Our house was full of visitors while he was alive,' said Lazar. He vividly recalled the family's celebration in 1912, when he was only four, of Albania's first taste of independence. Some of the most famous names in the fight for Albania such as Barjram Curri (who now has a town named after him), Hassan Prishtina and Sabri Qytezi visited the Bojaxhiu household, singing rowdy songs to the accompaniment of a mandolin and talking long into the night. The image that remained for ever in Lazar's mind was of a mountain of matchboxes piled on the floor by his father and friends and then set alight.

Kole had a keen entrepreneurial eye for an opportunity. At first he went into partnership running a pharmacy with a Dr Suskalovic, who had a reputation as one of the best doctors in Skopje, but he also joined forces with a building contractor and was responsible for building the Skopje theatre overlooking the river. Soon he joined a third enterprise, this time in partnership with Signor Morten, an Italian, and the pair traded in luxury goods and foods including oil, sugar, cloth and leather. Whenever he returned from a business trip the children remembered the excitement with which they would greet him and the many parcels he brought back for them all. He may have been stern and a disciplinarian, but he regularly regaled his family with funny accounts of his travels abroad.

Kole was known as a generous local benefactor and encouraged his children to be generous and compassionate to those less fortunate than themselves; this was as important as working hard at school. `Never forget whose children you are and from what background you come,' he told them. He had high expectations of their educational possibilities and was considered by contemporaries to be somewhat progressive in this field since he was prepared to send not just his son but also two daughters to school. However, Drana was obviously the more religious of the parents. She took the children to morning mass most days and when not working in the house or helping others was always saying the rosary. Kole, when he travelled, would leave enough money with her so that she could feed anyone in need who came to their door. Sometimes she went out, often accompanied by Agnes, who was growing up into a studious, book-loving girl, to deliver parcels of food and money to the poor.

The three children went at first to an elementary school within the Sacred Heart Church, where lessons were in Albanian and then, after some years, in Serbo-Croat. But although they subsequently attended state schools, Gymnasia, indicating the importance their father placed on education, life for all three of them was bound up in the parish of the Sacred Heart. Since the Catholics were a minority, the church was an important focal point for the Bojaxhiu family and gave them a clear sense of cultural and religious identity.

Because Skopje was not on any borders, it was spared the sort of street butchery suffered by other Balkan towns during the Great War. But, enveloped by the fighting, it obviously could not avoid all strife. In 1918, however, as the end of the war led to still more debate over the new Balkan border, the prosperous childhood years of the Bojaxhiu family were brought suddenly to an end. Nikola recognised that the struggle for Albanian nationalism was far from over and he joined a movement which sought to have the disputed province of Kosova, inhabited chiefly by Albanians, joined to a Greater Albania. In fact the new federation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, known after 1929 as Yugoslavia, was given much of Northern Albania, including Kosova, leading to a sense of fear, anger and betrayal among the Albanian villages within the vilayet. According to one petition presented to the League of Nations by Kosovars in 1921, the Serbs had been responsible for killing 12,371 people, with a further 22,000 imprisoned. They begged for reunion with Albania, a situation which almost everyone else involved in deciding Albania's future was trying to prevent. Small autonomous fiefdoms, with direct allegiance to Belgrade, were more to the liking of the Serbs, the Austrians, the Great Powers and even one or two Albanian leaders themselves.

Kole clearly felt strongly about the issue, for he travelled 160 miles to Belgrade to attend a political dinner on the subject. But his support for a Greater Albania would have made him many enemies, and when he staggered home in the early evening some days later, driven in a carriage by the Italian consul, the family saw that he was dying. They did not immediately know the cause, which was probably poisoning. Drana sent Agnes to fetch the parish priest, but when she could not find him she went for some reason to the Skopje railway station, where she found another priest unknown to the family. She persuaded him to accompany her home, where he administered the last rites to Nikola. The family then rushed him, haemorrhaging badly, to hospital where the next morning he underwent emergency surgery. But he died the following day. The funeral of Nikola Bojaxhiu was an important event in Skopje. Large crowds attended, including official delegates from the city council and representatives of other religions. On the day of the funeral every jeweller's shop in the city was closed; the pupils in all the city's schools received commemorative handkerchiefs. The number of handkerchiefs given away was, traditionally, an indication of the wealth of the person who had died.

Mother Teresa herself has consistently refused to talk about her childhood. She dismisses it as unimportant, though she will say that she came from an exceptionally happy family background. `I remember my mother, my father and the rest of us praying together each evening. I hope our Albanian families have remained faithful to this practice. It is God's greatest gift to the family. It maintains family unity. The family that does not pray together does not stay together.' The anonymous priest I consulted for help explained this attitude to me when I asked him for more details about her early days: `Her work is to spread the Gospel and to answer the call of Christ. Any personal details which don't enhance that are irrelevant ... intrusive.'

The accounts in English which carry most about her childhood years are Egan's biography, published in 1985, and David Porter's Mother Teresa: The Early Years, published in 1986 and largely based on an Albanian book, also authorised, by Dr Lush Gjergi, Mother Teresa's cousin who still lives in Kosova, where he combines the occupations of both journalist and priest. However, both books are tantalisingly short on dates for those early years. And there are discrepancies. For example, Egan says Nikola Bojaxhiu died in 1919, aged forty-five. Porter does not give a date but implies 1918. In 1982 Lazar, then living in Italy, said in an interview: `The suffering of our family started when the Yugoslavs and Albanians were fighting for Kosova and the other provinces of Albania in which was the City of Skopje. Our father ... was very active in politics and the Albanian National question. He tried very hard to obtain the national rights of Albanians, with all his heart he tried to keep the Albanian territories in Yugoslavia together with Albania. When Yugoslavia took over the territories the family was persecuted and my father poisoned.'

When I visited Tirana in 1995 I went to see the mixed-religion cemetery where Mother Teresa's mother and sister Age are buried. After a short bus ride, I walked for a mile or so down a dusty road alongside an enormous but disused Soviet-built textile factory. Like so much else in the country, it now lies inert, a prey to looters and other criminals, but the nearby electricity plant, once so crucial to the factory, still belches out its black smoke. To reach the cemetery I crossed the main road and walked up a short hill. The ubiquitous, derelict concrete bunkers on either side of the road remind one that only a few years previously this country was hostage to one of the most ruthless dictatorships in the world. Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1944 until 1985, installed 600,000 of these pillbox bunkers the breadth and length of the country at vast human and financial cost, to combat aerial attacks from an imagined foreign enemy.

At the entrance to the cemetery itself, the foreign visitor, instantly marked out by dress and mien, is greeted by begging mothers and ragged boys. They offered to show me, for a price, what they assumed I had come to see: the grave of the former dictator himself. He was, briefly, buried in a polished red granite tombstone in the Cemetery of Martyrs, alongside the statue of Mother Albania. But eventually Hoxha was discredited and the red granite reused as a memorial to forty-three British soldiers killed in Albania during the Second World War. His remains were disinterred and today lie in the same crowded cemetery as thousands of his subjects, just a few feet away from Drana and Age Bojaxhiu.

According to the women's simple marble gravestones, Drana, or Roza as it says, lived from 1889 to 1972. This would mean that she was just fifteen when she gave birth to her first child -- perhaps fourteen at the moment of conception -- and was some fifteen years younger than her more worldly husband. This would not have been particularly unusual for the time and the place. Many Albanian girls were betrothed in infancy. Betrothal was such an important element of Albanian society that often, as soon as a female child was born, a part of her purchase price was immediately paid by the family of her prospective husband. But Age's gravestone gives her dates as 1913-73, clearly a nonsense as all the accounts -- and there is photographic evidence too -- are agreed that she was six years older, not three years younger, than Agnes.

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Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rarely have I encountered a biography so negative, so slanted and so unfairly biased. Anne Sebba¿s take on incident after incident in Mother Theresa¿s remarkable life is the most negative imaginable and repeatedly boggles the mind and tests the tolerance of the reader! In her preface the author promises a balanced accounting of Mother Theresa¿s life. Instead we get a view so filled with malice and contempt one wonders what is this author¿s vehemence from? What is her prejudice? What is her axe to grind?Was she, although Jewish, perhaps unhappily sent as a child to Catholic schools? Anne Sebba may think she was subtle and sly in her character assassination but I think most readers will see this work for what it is; a bitter attempt to discredit one of the few truly giving, unselfish, effective people of our time, and her faith. If Mother Theresa¿s actions were only to promote the Christian faith and the name of Jesus Christ, as the author suggests, what of that? The results are the same ¿ the compassionate comforting and help to the least valued in our world. If I could speak directly to the author I would cry ¿shame!¿ For she has clearly shut out of her consciousness any respect for true compassion, strength and conviction in one of the few people of our time that exemplify those qualities.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Who is Mother Teresa? The author did a good job giving me her opinion of who she was. She wrote about her childhood, life and beliefs, and packed pretty much information about it all into this book. She wasn¿t out to praise Mother Teresa; she was learning and writing about all sides of her. You¿d probably want to read this book if you¿re doing a report on Mother Teresa, or just want to know more about her. I didn¿t find this book to be very exciting, however, it was very informational. Back to my question. Who is Mother Teresa? I concluded that she was kind, but headstrong (and sometimes stubborn) and truly, with all her heart, believed in what she was doing.