Thursday, April 21, 2016

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The sequence to the novel ‘To kill a Mocking Bird’ has been released  in 2015.  This second book is reported to be the Original Version of the novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’.  The original is told from the point of view of the child ‘Finch”.  In this sequence called ‘Go Set a Watchman’, the child has grown into an educated woman of 26 and has been away from her home working in  New York.  Her father though a man of enough substance both literally and financially had agreed with her decision to let her work away from his family in order to make her learn the tricks of life. 
         She returns to Maycomb.  In her observations of the happenings of the town she finds that all her childhood heroes including her father have become one among the crowds and they do not at this point of time profess the ideals they had in the previous era (of her childhood,) except her aunt Alexandra, who continues to dominate the household of Atticus, her father.  Alexandra represents ( in the original as well as in this) book, all that is wrong in the culture of USA.  This is as usual resented by Finch, the young woman.
          Her brother, Jed had died some years ago and she has a new friend Hank, a young man, who looks to Atticus for guidance and support in the absence of his family which was in the vicinity.  He loves Finch and wants to marry her and settle down in Maycomb.  He is treated like a foster son of Atticus and he is a lawyer by training. 
          In these circumstances, an accident happens in which one white citizen of Maycomb is killed.  The boy to be tried for this offence is the grandson of Calpurnia, the original maid who worked in Atticus household and who took care of the children in the absence of her mother, till she retired to her house because of her old age.
          The young woman perceives that most of the people, both white and black who had faith in equality, have become racist and colour conscious, in the light of the campaigns run by National Association of Advancement of Coloured People.  NAACP is considered by Black Americans to be their organization fighting for their cause, which is resented, to use a mild expression, by the white folk. They accuse NAACP of fermenting racism, forgetting that NAACP was advancing the cause of equality.   Jean Finch finds her father siding with the whites and calpurnia had already given up hope on Atticus or for that matter on white folk and does not expect that justice would be done in this case.   The penultimate scene is how the young Finch fights with her father.   She accuses him of teaching her high values of freedom, equality and other democratic values and of forgetting these ideals now in his advanced age.  By doing this, she argues, she has been misguided by him.  He is a hypocrite who does not live by his principles anymore. She loses hope on the whitefolk of Maycomb including her father who seems to cater to the needs of the worst promoters of racial hatred.  She decides to leave, the town and her father and her house.  But her uncle confronts her with the nuanced true situation of the place and reveals  her father’s integrity, honesty and his endeavour to take everyone along with him in the path of his ideals, slowly but surely.  She finally reconciles to the truth.
          Though this novel is not as gripping as the previous one, and does not have as interesting dramatic elements, it still holds the interest because of its nuanced portrait of the people and the society. The initial narrative is very slow and even boring.   This may be because of the fact that "To kill a mocking Bird' is excellent and racy and no sequel can match the original.  It takes a long to establish the basic plot and the final confrontation comes out well.  It is not great as a novel but an addition, a kind of NB.

          As a person interested in literature, I found as to how the perception of the characters about others and the society changes over time.  In this way it is a continuation of the social actions.  But from a different point of view.  The novel has perhaps grown up but lost some of its romantic and idealistic shine   

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Measure of a Man by Sydney Poitier

             Measure of a Man is an autobiography of Sydney Poitier.  He has honestly portrayed his life in the Caribbean and in USA where he went in search of livelihood. He had performed all kinds of work in trying to earn a decent livelihood.  He, in his native place was not used to the kinds of humiliation and insults a Black American suffered in USA at that point of time.  He courageously and with determination encounters the racism.  He never compromises his beliefs for money or livelihood. His honesty gives him enough to live on.  It is his honesty that fetches him the kind of roles he believes in. His roles normally reflects himself.  He rose to become the first black american to be awarded Oscar.  He had also been awarded lifetime achievement award by American Academy of Motion Pictures (which awards Oscars). 

            It is his conviction that a man should not compromise on his principles whatever the difficulties he might face. From a simple boy from a poor family in the Carribean, he had become a great actor. 

            I came to know of this book also through There was a video of Sydney Poitier participating in a group discussion about his book.  He appeared a honest person expression whatever he felt directly.  After reading the book this impression is confirmed. 

            In these cynical times, his autobiography came as a breath of fresh air. A good and honest Man, who has measured himself humbly.   

The Wives by Smiron Popoff

I heard about the book ‘The Wives’ in a lecture by S. Ramakrishnan, a tamil writer in you tube.   He mentioned it in one of his long lectures about Dostoevesky.  This book by Smiron Popoff, is about the wives of great Russian writers like DOstoevesky, Tolstoi and others..
First about Dostoevesky.  He had been punished with a harsh sentence of hard labour in Siberia.  He escapes death very narrowly when orders for shooting these prisoners is cancelled when the first group of prisoners are about to be shot.  This for the charges that he was present in a meeting of friends where they were reportedly conspiring to overthrow the King of Russia, the Zar.   From then on his ordeal of life starts.  When he writes, it is inevitable that he writes about his experiences.  He was always on the edge of poverty, on the wrong side of the law (not because of his criminal intents).  A young woman, far younger than him, who had read his novella, wishes to meet him.  Since she knows stenography and at one point of time D was in need of a stenographer, she is engaged.  From then on their relationship blossoms into love and they ultimately married. 

She happens to be the muse he needed very badly.  She understands his emotional imbalances and adjusts her life according to the needs of D.  She voluntarily and without murmur, undergoes the sufferings that her marriage thrusts upon her.  She takes dictations, corrects the proofs, makes suggestions for improving the language.  Ultimately she edits and publishes his works.  She gives solace and brings peace and tries to organize his wayward life.  It is as if her life’s ambition is to live for his literature. But for her, it would have been a different Dostoevesky. 

Similarly, the Tolstoi’s wife also plays an important and vital role in his achievements.  Though she had been insulted and humiliated by Tolstoi and his immediate followers during the last days of Tolstoi,  she had been instrumental in making Tolstoi what he is in literature. The age difference of more than 15 years did not matter to her in her love for Tolstoi or his writing. 

This books also tells about other writers like Nobokov, Solshenytzin.  One of the horrible things that comes out of the books is that the Russian ruling elite, both before and after the revolution had committed countless atrocities in the name of justice and killed lakhs of Russian citizens.  This alone makes me think that the cost of becoming a superpower, either through leftist revolution as in Russia or  rightist agenda  in USA is denial of basic rights of its own citizens who disagree with the Governments.  This has been happening all the time all over the world.  The worst perpetrators appear to be the strongest Nations in the world.

A well researched book, throws lights on the inner and outer worlds of writers who stood up to the powers that be, while expressing their anguish and lived experience of their times.  Contribution of the wives of these great writers is truly very great amazing and inspiring.