This was a book which I had reserved for ages thanks to a work-related book club listing. It was so readable and engaging in tone that it took one sitting to finish reading although it was approaching the wee hours of the morning by then. I didn’t realise it encompassed the perspectives of different characters (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) until the fourth chapter – I was too engrossed in the unfolding plot. This is a book written by a writer who has paid attention to suspenseful build up of plot with teasers – in my experience, those books are the page turners. Each character also has a unique voice but while I’m sure it helped the reading, I didn’t exactly dwell over it.
So here’s the summary: The Help by Kathryn Stockett is the story of Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, and Minny Jackson. Skeeter has graduated from college and has returned to Jackson, Mississippi. She feels unsatisfied by her small town, Wednesday bridge club and working as the editor of the Junior League, because she wants to be a professional writer. She has her fair share of troubles because unlike her friends she has not found a husband yet and her mother is always trying to remind her to find dates. She wants to obtain a publishing position in New York but she has only received rejection letters. Inspired by her fondness for her former maid, Constantine — who left without a word before she returned — and annoyance with her friend Hilly’s “Home Sanitation Initiative” (a scheme for white people to set up bathrooms for their colored help), Skeeter sets out to write the stories of the black maids in her town. Naturally given this story is set in 1962 and given the setting, they are embarking on a fairly dangerous mission.
I’m not white, I’m not African-American and I’m not a citizen of USA. While I knew some background on civil war history, I liked the angle this book took on the Jim Crow laws and maids working for white women that they once raised as babies. There were two readings which struck me: Skeeter, a white woman gives a voice to “colored” maids who are silenced by the laws governing their state about race. On the positive side, it represents a simple college girl finding courage to stand up for the oppressed race. On the negative side, this is a story about mastery and race – the maids could not have done this without Skeeter’s assistance. At least, those are the two sides of the coin to me.
What was most beautiful to me was the relationship between Aibileen and motherly affection-starved Mae Mobley. I loved how the racist first grade teacher was changed when Raleigh Leefolt saw her playing ‘Rosa Parks on the bus’ with her sibling after she lied to defend Aibileen. Celia Foote, Johnny and Minny also had quite interesting interactions. The book definitely has its share of dramatic and funny moments.
Well, as for my opinion? It is worth reading, though there is plenty of subject matter about racism in the Southern States, because of the perspectives from which it is written – especially that of Aibileen andMinny.
Well, I know I was out of commission for a while but when you pursue a full-time working life on weekdays and use weekends for socialising like me, time just flies. I did make time for reading a few books though and as I have a glorious long weekend ahead (thank goodness for Labour Day in Vic), I can actually be not too tired to write. So I did manage to read the tome that is Shantaram despite my time poorness.
In 1978, the author of Shantaram was sentenced to nineteen years in prison after he was convicted of a string of armed robberies. In July 1980, he escaped from Pentridge Prison miraculously in daylight, becoming one of Australia’s most wanted men for several years. Written by Australian Gregory David Roberts who did actually live in the slums of Bombay, Shantaram is a unique novel that blurs the boundaries of fiction and autobiography.
The real story begins after our protagonist arrives in Mumbai with a false passport under the alias Lindsay Ford. The city impresses Lindsay and his stopover soon turns into an extended and dangerous stay on borrowed time. His chance meeting with an enigmatic taxi driver, Prabaker, who has an infectious smile, whom Lindsay hires as his guide to India shapes the rest of the narrative. They soon become fast friends and Prabaker takes to calling him Lin. Lin is taken to the village of Sunder, where the family of Prabaker resides. Prabaker’s mother decides that Lin’s character is of a happy and peaceful nature and renames him Shantaram (Man of God’s Peace).
So now the story of where the title comes from is over, the pace of the plot increases after Lin gets drunk, is robbed and decides to live in the Mumbai slums and thanks to a first aid kit and a fire ends up as the “slum doctor”. This experience makes him almost local and his fluent mastery of Hindi as well as Marathi, a popular language in Mumbai, opens up new avenues of earning money to him. He also interacts with other foreigners living in Mumbai, involved in all sorts of criminal circles, and then ends up involved in some shady situations, including a stint in theArthur Roadprison. The two foreigners that play a crucial role in Lin’s life is Karla, a Swiss-American woman and Afghan mafia lord Abdel Khader Khan. The former introduces him to true love and the latter inspires him to abandon his path of crime and return to living an honest life.
It’s funny but Lin is a villain that you want to see succeed. The writing in Shantaram is sometimes a bit too cliché and full of sentimentality, possibly to display the tender heart of the guy who looks tough, so if the plot is what interests you and not how the prose is written, I recommend you give it a go.
Based on Irish expat Frank McCourt‘s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela’s Ashes, this 1999 film adaptation shows us how he grew up in the wretched slums of Limerick during the Depression. It is clear from the start food is as scarce as employment, poverty is rife, disease is a precursor to death and squalor is everywhere. Nevertheless despite all the tragedies that befall this family including their pathetic alcoholic father figure who uses even welfare money for the drink instead of feeding his babies, Frankie seems to find some joy in life and builds his dreams on escaping to America while even managing to love his irresponsible dad. It is the rich variety of characters and experiences he has along the way to achieving this that makes this story so poignant and moving. Frank’s Irish Catholic upbringing is given a lot of focus on the film as well as the rank hypocrisy of the church.
The film is brutal in its depiction of the bleak and sad life that was had to be in Ireland with the drab brown and grey tones pervading it. Nevertheless it is still injected with doses of optimism and humour, sometimes from the most unexpected quarters. Robert Carlyle does a great job as the laconic and irresponsible Malachy while Emily Watson seems to bear the patience of a saint as she portrays the self-sacrificing woman who was Angela, Frank McCourt’s mother and the namesake of the film. The three boys who portrayed Frank were all great actors in their own right so kudos to the casting people.
Despite Angela having a husband who rarely if ever fulfilled his obligations as a father, she is the rock who made Frank determined to achieve his goal and move on from the past. It is clear she was a good-hearted person who coped with immense hardships that were thrown in her way. Ultimately while this is a tragic movie about the pain and suffering one can undergo for the love of one’s children, the ultimate triumph at the end eclipses it all.
While this is a good movie, it is possibly because it stays true to the heart of the book most of the time. If you want to watch it but haven’t read the book yet, I suggest trying it out first. Angela’s Ashes may be an uplifting story in its final message but it is not a happy one. After seeing this, you might want to think twice about complaining about your lot in life and eat humble pie instead!
In Breath by Tim Winton, we have a gripping tale that is simple and profound in the topics it tackles – adolescence, the need for heart-pounding and risk-filled excitement, a yearning to outshine and outdo the competition and how old wounds affect the passage of life as time passes. This book which is mostly about the friendship between two boys and their daring surfing exploits is melodic in its use of written language and deserved the Miles Franklin Literary Award it won in 2009. As an immigrant Melburnian, surf culture is alien to me but as Winton paints such a vivid verbal picture of that world, and how the ocean could be both enthralling and toxic, Breath is a captivating read.
The most touching moment was when or coming of age protagonist had to admit that he was ‘ordinary’ after all. You realise it is a melancholy book as the trajectory of events clues you in that this is no flowery ode. Since it’s structured from the start as a reflection on past events, you can’t help but feel for Bruce Pike, the main character and later on his love interest. It did surprise me that the amount of time spent in learning about his present was very miniscule.
Set in Western Australia where surfing beaches abound, Breath gave me enjoyment in reading about the landscape. Sometimes authors overdo it to the point that it becomes a pain to read but Winton avoids relying on description and infuses his tale with enough dialogue and dramatic tension to sustain interest. You need to realise beneath the story surface story evoking nostalgia, there are other themes such as addiction, dreams vs reality and growing old integrated into the plot as an undercurrent.
I’ve been meaning to this for a while now but it was delayed because I was working on the Burwood Bulletin since it’s due to be published in September with three of my six writers off duty. In addition, I got some extra work shifts from my second job. So I actually had to undertake the job duties of a journalist in addition to editing. When I return home, nothing seems better than a good sleep.
It was tough to hit the ground running with this one but I really wanted to share so I’ve got my butt into gear. These films meant so much to me even if they were animated and either dubbed in English or subtitled. What I am talking about are cinematic creations by Hayao Miyazaki.
Howl’s Moving Castle
The first Miyazaki film I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle. Based very loosely on a book by Dianna Wynne Jones, the story is about the adventure of a young girl, Sophie Hatter, who is cursed with an old woman’s body. To break the spell cast on her by the nasty Witch of Waste, she seeks the help of a handsome but terrifying wizard by the name of Howl. His residence is a home that moves. A fire demon in the home, Calcifer, makes a deal with her that he will release her from the spell if Sophie releases him from the contract he has with Howl. The catch is he is not allowed to tell her how she can bring this about. When the disreputable wizard starts to fall for Sophie’s genuine charms, the fun begins. The characters and creatures are crafted excellently although Miyazaki has shown more strength in his character development in other productions. The animation is stunning and we are treated to a moral tale by changes of physical appearance and of character, reducing its preachiness while managing to work well as a lesson. It’s not as bad as Roger Ebert imagines.
The Oscar-winning Spirited Away is another mind-blowing movie by the “Japanese Disney”. Ten-year-old Chihiro, who is moving away with her parents to a new neighborhood, is upset about leaving her old friends and school behind. Her father’s attempt to take a shortcut to their new town leads the family to an abandoned theme park where they find an unattended food stall fully laid out. Her parents dig in but Chihiro is uneasy and frightened. She encounters a spirit called Haku who warns her that she and her family have to leave before nightfall. But when she runs back to alert her parents, they’ve turned into pigs. It turns out she is stuck in a spirit world. So with the assistance of Haku, she gains a job at the bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. She’s renamed by the witch as Sen and learns if she does not hide her true identity, she’ll lose her sense of self forever. While she is whiny at the start of the movie, the responsibility she is saddled with develops her as a character. She begins learning how to deal with difficulties and becomes a stronger person because of her trials. After her parents turn into pigs, she’s scared and lost, but by the end of her journey in this fantasy spirit world, she is confident and strong. The film is rich in cultural symbolism and was vastly popular with the Japanese audience. It didn’t do too badly in the western world either as Disney took it on board but it did lose some significance in the transition…unfortunately.
I’ve also watched Princess Mononoke, which could be considered an animated fantasy Japanese period drama. A young warrior by the name of Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse when he’s protecting his village from a rampaging boar-demon. To seek a cure, he goes to the forests in the west where he finds himself mixed up in a war humans are waging against the forest. The Lady Eboshi and her clan who live in a sacred area use their guns against the forests gods and a young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. The young warrior sees both sides are good people and the war is unnecessary and does his best to intervene. The groups each begin to think he is working for the enemy while he tries to convince them there are no sides. While this maybe an animated film, it is the adults who will gain more to learn from it. Besides the fact this is mostly hand-drawn makes it a major achievement.
The Cat Returns
A young girl called Haru saves a cat from traffic. She starts receiving gifts and favours from the King of Cats that she does not want for saving him. He wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince Lune. Her rescue of the cat forces her to involuntarily become engaged to the cat prince in a magical kingdom. She finds the assistance of a real but grouchy cat and an elegant cat statuette that has come to life. These two cats also made a cameo in Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart. They help her to find the way to escape from the cat kingdom. This is a more relaxing and fantasy oriented film with that can be enjoyed in its own right as a splendid example of animation.
Whisper of the Heart
Whisper of the Heart is an animation so sweet that it tugs at the heartstrings. The plot is about a budding teenage romance but this constantly explored theme is given a new veneer as it avoids typical stereotyping. This screenplay was written by Miyazaki but it’s direction was undertaken by another talented man, Yoshifumi Kondo, who died of an aneurysm in the following year. We meet the girl, Shizuku, who regularly checks out books from the library. To her annoyance, someone else is checking out the same books. Later she coincidentally meets the culprit to blame, a boy. He finds a song she’s writing for graduation and tell her the lyrics are corny. Pissed off, she leaves to bump into him again after following a curious cat. Seiji turns out to be the grandson of a violin maker and he himself wants to develop his skill in that art in Italy. When she hears him play, she is entranced and inspired to pursue big dreams of her own by writing a book in the midst of their budding affection for each other. She feels as she is uncertain of the future she wants and he has big plans, they might not suit each other. You’ll see a different ending if you watch the American version but I watched a fan dub and was not displeased with the future marriage possibility discussion by the two adolescents. There is a manga that uses this title but it is not possible to say the print and film versions are the same story.
It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.
So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.
Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.
The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.
Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.
When I went to watch The Adjustment Bureau last night, my preconception of the film as the general suspense thriller flick was blown away. Based loosely on the Philip K. Dick short story titled Adjustment Team, the film starring Matt Damon as Dave Norris, a popular politician running for the US Senate and Emily Blunt as Elise the dancer he meets by chance after an oversight by one of the bureau’s case workers is a refreshing work with the year of the sequel phenomenon approaching.
The work of the adjustment bureau is to ensure life goes according to a plan which is traceable in a book written by the head of the organisation named the “Chairman”. It works out according to the plan, Dave and Elise were not meant to meet the way they did. So the case workers who ensure people follow their fates without diverging from their true paths do their best to put obstacles in the way of Dave. But a quick kiss in the men’s stall after Elise crashed a wedding and he was practising his concession speech connects them and manages to make their paths intertwine again because of their recurring chemistry for each other.
Thompson (John Slattery) who is built as the villain of the piece who is determined to thwart their relationship exposes the bureau to Dave and warns him that if he breathes a word of this that his will to think would cease. Interestingly, this movie raises a lot of questions about how much we have an affect on our individual fates and how much of it could be guided for us by a higher power giving it some repressed theological ground. When Dave is informed by Thompson, his chase of Elise would not only have a negative impact on his ambition but also on her dream of being a famous dancer, he abandons her feeling that he is making a sacrifice for her sake.
Later, he spots an article saying that she is to be married to her ex-boyfriend and feels in his gut something is wrong. Harry, a case worker more sympathetic to his cause than the others, provides him the use of his hat which allows him to open doors through New York without the control of his choices being affected. He finally reunites with Elise and when she is tested for her conviction in him, despite initial hesitation her trust in him is repaid with both of them allowed to use their free will.
While the film had an interesting storyline and it was directed well by George Nolfi who succeeds fairly well with his intention of creating it to raise questions but since it leaves a lot open to interpretation and deconstruction by the viewers themselves, it could either be a hit or miss depending on individual personalities and their takes on fate.
Once I accidentally happened upon Tuesdays with Morrie at my university library while searching for some course text books. So what do I do?
I promptly abandon my text hunting and sit in for a delicious tale written by Mitch Albom about his moments with the retired sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz ; it is about the lessons the author learned from the teacher who had contracted Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). So it was with joy I revisited this author’s writing in The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Unlike my first experience, this time it was fiction inspired by Eddie Beitchman, the writer’s real life uncle, who had lived a life like that of Eddie in the book.
This particular narrative starts with a death – the death of the main character, Eddie the maintenance man on Ruby Pier, on his 83rd birthday to be exact. This birthday incident is notable because you realise lots of events of significance happened on his birthdays.Small little interconnected coincidences, to which readers are clued in by the narrator, lead to an accident at the Ruby Pier amusement park that finally leads to Eddie’s death as he tries to rescue a young girl. This is why the book starts with a chapter titled ‘The End’.
We are then given some insight into his journey through heaven after his passing away.Through this trip, we are treated to glimpses of five people on whom his past had a significant impact. His first encounter is with the blue man, a former circus freak, who imagines the Ruby Pier of Eddie’s childhood as his own heaven. Eddie had been indirectly responsible for his death but he tells Eddie events are not that random and lives intersect for a reason.
The second stage of heaven brings Eddie to a scene of war torn desolation during WWII. His new mentor turns out to be his war captain with whom he fought in the Philippines, where they became prisoners of war for a brief period. Eddie uses his circus skills to escape their confinement but feels too paralysed to leave at the last moment after he helps to set the war camp on fire. The captain had promised his subordinates that he would not leave anyone behind. To fulfill this promise, he shoots Eddie in the leg to make it easier to get the evacuation underway. Initially Eddie is angry with the captain who had been waiting to ask his forgiveness but realises the man suffered a worse fate than him. He teaches Eddie about sacrifice.
Next Eddie meets an elderly Ruby, a woman he has never met before. She turns out to be the namesake of the amusement park where he worked all his life. He meets her in a diner where she had worked when she was young and where she had met her husband, Emile – the creator behind Ruby Pier. She tells him the misconceptions he had entertained against his father were far from the truth despite their conflicts. She was privy to his deathbed confession because Emile was in the same room. She tells Eddie about the importance of forgiveness.
Finally Eddie comes face to face with Marguerite, the love of his life. Their marriage was happy but childless so they had put in an application for adoption. Before this can take place, Eddie is involved in betting high stakes at the track. Worried about him, she drives to meet him but meets with an accident when some drunk kids drop some whiskey bottles that land on the car. This causes unforeseen medical expenses and their application for adoption is rejected. Although the accident creates tension between them at first, they overcome this situation until tragedy strikes again taking Marguerite. He meets her in a succession of wedding parties belonging to different cultures where she teaches him their love was neither snatched too early or torn to pieces as he had thought.
His final teacher is Tala who meets a grisly fate due to his hand at war camp. This explains why he felt he could not leave but his war captain shooting him ensures his survival. Tala tells him his life as ‘Eddie Maintenance’ was an important one. His ability to keep an eye on the proper functioning of the rides meant lives were saved – both the born and unborn. Eddie is a man who feels has not achieved what he has set out to accomplish because by a set of unfortunate circumstances, he inherits a job he despises but stays because he feels obligated to continue the job his father had. Tala, who meets him near a river, teaches him the meaning and purpose of his work at the pier was to save and protect the children. Eddie’s life ends with him doing what he had done for his entire life.
Rich in symbolism, motifs and imagery of rebirth and redemption, The Five People You Meet In Heaven is a tale of inspiration about an unsung hero.
- To watch Tuesdays with Morrie trailer, click here.
- To watch The Five People You Meet in Heaven trailer, click here.
Are you familiar with Can We Help, the TV show on ABC, partly hosted during the Wise Words segment by Kate Burridge? The show explored in detail where certain words and expressions that are cause for argument originally derived from and how they have progressed. Her vast and in-depth knowledge regarding the intricacies of the English language and its use has her often explaining about new expressions, shifts in meanings and emerging grammatical constructs because of her linguistic expertise.
To watch videos of the ABC episodes of Can We Help, go here.
Her book titled ‘Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History’ explains to us:
Q: Why can we fall in love but not in hate
Q: What do codswallop and poppycock share?
Q: Why not one house and two hice?
Within this book based on segments from the aforementioned television program and Soundbank from ABC Radio , Professor Kate Burridge investigates our language, untangles words and their meanings and uncovers how differences in interpretation and enunciation has transformed the evolution of English.
It demonstrates the inventiveness of the tongue in how it exists as a ‘proper’ dialect along with its offending but amusing cousin, slang. Her informative discussion of the origins of linguistic appellations in English answers how frequently used terms that are erroneous in their usage become an everyday staple. Her interview on why she decided to write the book after being inspired by the general public is accessible here.
She describes her favourite word which has since expired in use as velleity: it means “a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.” I think my favourite words belonging to the English lexicon are foreign words that become part and parcel of permanent use. What sort of uncommon expressions do you favour?
This is a sad but beautiful story of determination and perseverance about the life of Danny Dunn. His dreams of becoming a pro athlete dashed after a very foolhardy and rash decision to enlist in World War I by dropping out of university , he does his best to cultivate the sporting abilities of his twin daughters. This is no easy task because one of the twins realises her talent lies in folk music unlike the other sister who trains to be an Olympic level swimmer in accordance to Danny’s wishes.
Unfortunately Danny’s political ambitions and support of Dawn Fraser impose upon the sporting daughter’s qualifying to compete and a last minute illness during the swimming finals leads to the blossoming of an unsavoury relationship with tragic consequences.
Ultimately Danny realises he was pursuing his own dreams through his daughters and comes to terms with his other daughter following her own.