Today begins the Second Annual Ghanian Literature Week, as celebrated by book bloggers around the globe. Kinna Reads is the central organizer of the occasion; see her introductory post.
Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo (1991) is about a Ghanian woman searching for her place in a modern world that is steeped in traditional culture. Esi has an advanced degree and she loves her job, but cannot find satisfaction in her marriage, due to her demanding and overly pushy husband. While she loves her young daughter, she resents the fact that she is expected to care for her as well as working and taking care of the house and being there for her husband. She resents her husband and her expected roles. Although Accra is a modern city, the cultural expectations of her society provide only frustration for Esi. Sadly, she is not the only woman frustrated by her situation.
But when Esi decides to leave her husband, no one else she knows, not her best friend from childhood or her mother or grandmother, can understand why. Their expectations for a modern woman are that she recognize her place as a woman and balance everything, even when it is unsatisfying. The life of a woman is, by their interpretation of the cultural traditions, meant to be unsatisfying. A woman is to marry, work for her husband, have a career, take care of her home and family, and be a loving mother. Although Esi wants to follow tradition, she cannot accept that her unhappy relationship is how her life must remain. She seeks change.
As the title indicates, Esi’s story follows her as her life goes through a series of changes through the coming years. With each new change, she struggles to find her place as a woman, her place as a modern woman, and her place within both family and cultural traditions. (more…)
In the middle grade historical novel in poetry May B. by Caroline Rose (to be published January 2012 by Swartz and Wade), young Mavis Betterley, called May, has been sent away from home for the first time, assigned to be a helper for one of her rural Kansas farm neighbors for six months. Despite her personal challenges to reading, May is heart-broken at leaving school, and she longs for Christmas to come soon so she can rejoin her family on their farm. Then the unthinkable happens: May is left alone at the sod house. Once she realizes she has been abandoned on the prairie, 15 miles from her nearest neighbor, the next months become months of survival as May struggles to eat and remain warm in the harsh pioneer prairie climate. (more…)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and classically illustrated by Jules Feiffer (1961) is a book for the clever reader. The book is full of wonderful wordplay, cliché, word stereotypes, and logic puzzles for a young child (and the adult!) to chuckle over and enjoy.
In the story, the young Milo is bored of school and of everything else in his life. He doesn’t want to play with his toys. He does want to learn anything. What’s the point of it all? As he ponders the existential meaning of his life, a gigantic magic tollbooth appears in his home, and he enters (why not? he doesn’t have anything better to do) a magically different world where words and numbers are very important, but meaning is tragically lacking. Using his wits and his courage, Milo, along with the help of a clever watchdog named Tock, comes to the rescue in finding meaning. I loved the emphasis on learning, the cleverness of the wordplay, and the delight that comes from the many colorful characters in his trip through Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. Milo becomes the hero of the everyman because he does the “impossible,” and who can’t help but love Tock the watchdog! (more…)
I was four years old when he passed away, but Spencer W. Kimball’s role as prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church) has always been the predominant role of his life in my mind. President Kimball’s biography, which was written by two of his sons, Edward and Andrew Kimball, opened my eyes to the sincere, gentle, and kind man he strived to be.
Because his biography was written by his two sons, they provided a personal view of the man who was to be called as prophet. They had access to his many decades of journals, but they also provided insights in the man they grew up with. Obviously, they wrote with love but they wrote with themselves at a distance: I never felt the book was overly sentimental in terms of the authors’ narration. Rather, I think they provided interesting insights from their memory that gave the book depth and interest. Further, they addressed Spencer Kimball’s failings and problems throughout the book: it was not a perfect rosy picture of a perfect man. Instead, as I read, I came to know much better a human who happened to be called to serve his God and who I revere as a prophet in this latter-day age of the world. (more…)
Maggie Tulliver is a quick-witted child, one with appalling manners for her strict Victorian house and community. She cannot seem to be a proper young lady. When the novel opens, she is about nine years old, and I couldn’t help adoring her childish antics, especially as she regularly brought disappointment to her mother and aunts with her lack of girlish charm. From my perspective, who wouldn’t love a girl who is so determined to read, to learn, and to be all the imaginative things she desires?
Unfortunately for Maggie, her life in small-town Victorian village does not allow for women that are different from the norm. Her story, as told in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), was both frustrating and emotional for me to read, because as Maggie herself desired, I wanted so much more for her. (more…)