Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Banned Books: Gone with the Wind By Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

               Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle living on a plantation in Georgia in the time before the Civil War. She is a beauty like her mother with the temper of her Irish father. Learned in the ways of women, she holds all of the men in the palm of her hands. All except for Ashley Wilkes, who she is now madly in love with after hearing of his intention to marry his cousin Melanie. In an attempt to steal him away from his fiancĂ©, she announces her love to him, in private and when rejected throws a tantrum that was visible only to Rhett Butler, a wealthy man not received in most well to do circles. Life after that fateful night changed for everyone with the beginning of the Civil War. Scarlett’s love for Ashley never wavered as the battle around her raged on and the world as she knew completely disappeared.
                Mitchell created an amazing, innovative, funny, well developed and brilliantly written novel with Gone with the Wind. All of the characters in this thousand page novel were intriguing and captured your imagination. I’m finding it hard to describe Scarlett. She was beautiful, self-centered, harsh, spiteful, bullheaded, strong and so unwillingly attached to certain people places and things. She was full of depth and life and in many situations I wanted to understand her and yet despised her at the same time. Scarlett was alive in this novel. She was an amazing character used to bring readers through the twelve years that this novel took place.
                One of the things that I found amazing about this novel was how vivid the surroundings were and the amount of detail given to the struggle in the south during the Civil War. Mitchell was very descriptive about the atmosphere before, during and after the Civil War. She included all of the luxury of plantation life before the war, the fear and uncertainty during the war and the desperate situations most of the Confederates were in after losing the war. One of things I was surprised by were the depictions of the relationships between slaves and their owners. The idea of loving relationships between slaves and their owners, where slaves of the rich looked down on the slaves in poor houses or even “white trash” isn’t one that I have seen explored in other novels. In Gone With the Wind the loyalty of the slaves to many of the white families is evident and a source of pride for those slaves. It was interesting at the very least to read this depiction of life in the south after the Civil War.
                I could go on and on about how much I was entranced by this story and the many reasons why but I won’t. I wouldn’t want to give anything away in case someone hasn’t seen the movie. I haven’t seen the film and I’m not sure I will be able to after reading this book. It was so full of life and the story was so layered and intense that I am not sure any actress could do it justice. Unless the movie is ten hours long and can convey all the emotions felt in these pages it wouldn’t be worth it to watch but only time will tell. Mitchell’s writing shines throughout every page of this novel. Every single page, every description, every plot twist, every struggle, every dress was so detailed and so well imagined and described. This has easily become one of the best novels I have ever read.
                Now, that I’ve said all that, the reasons why it has been banned are obvious. This novel was released in 1937 and many felt as if she not only glorified slavery but the Ku Klux Klan. The word “nigger” is on almost every page and said by almost every character in the book. There’s a prevalent whore house, lots of drinking and Scarlett’s behavior is questionable throughout the book. The novel was banned in the USSR for 65 years due to the sensitivity of their own situation after war time. In 1978 it was banned from the California Union High School Districts for Scarlett and the freed slaves’ behavior. According to the American Library Association It was banned in 1984 in the Waukegan Illinois School District for the excessive use of the word “nigger.” I thought I would be offended by the abundant use of “nigger” throughout the novel and surprisingly, I wasn’t. I accepted very early on that I was reading a fictional account of historical events told through the eyes of a Southern Belle from a Confederate family. What would I expect from a southern family that owned slaves and was fighting to keep their land and their slaves? This is what I would expect! Aside from the fact that Gone with the Wind is a historical fiction novel full of romance in a time of war, we have to accept the fact that there were people in the 19th Century who believed and supported most, if not all, of the images portrayed in this novel. The idea of banning an incredible novel because of the language used, in this instance, almost feels like people are trying to hide from history. There is no hiding the struggles that occurred, the language that was used, the maltreatment that people suffered, the change that happened because of that time in our history. At least with this novel, we are getting a frankly honest depiction of what life may have seemed like for Confederates. I recommend this novel for everyone because it is such an eye opening depiction of life at the time, filled with amazing imagery and a captivating storyline.

Banned Book Awareness: Gone With the Wind http://bannedbooks.world.edu/2013/04/07/banned-books-awareness-gone-with-the-wind/ R. Wolf Baldassarro

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Violet Minturn is an American girl who lives with her mother in the Hidden Jade Path, a first class courtesan house in Shanghai, China. Lulu Mimi, her mother, also American, is the owner and madam of Hidden Jade Path, also known as the House of Lulu Mimi. The courtesan house is known for their Cloud Beauties and for catering to both Chinese and Western Clients. The Revolution that occurred when Violet was fourteen changed everything for the Minturn family. They were now in fear for their life as foreigners. It was at this time that Violet also discovered that her father, who she had always believed was an American man who passed away when she was young, was a Chinese businessman very much alive. His very traditional family shunned her and her mother but kidnapped her little brother who she didn’t even know existed. Lulu’s search for her young son and trust in the wrong person would leave Violet abandoned and forced to live the life of a courtesan.
The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet and all the love and loss that occurred throughout her life. We are exposed, through Violet’s narration, to the life of the courtesans that worked for her mother, the guest they entertained, and the rituals that they pursued in their business. Violets struggle with realizing her Chinese heritage exposed the social classes and racial divides in early 20th century China. The relationship between Violet and Lulu would affect Violet throughout her life and become a defining factor in her acceptance of love and her portrayal of those people that came in her life, both male and female.

I really wanted to enjoy this novel, the second I’ve read by Amy Tan. Unfortunately this novel struggled to keep me interested. Tan is a well written author but this novel lacked in many different areas. The majority of the novel was narrated by Violet, with a few chapters told through other characters. This change in delivery didn’t increase the pace or help the storyline. In my opinion it hindered the novel by preventing Violet’s story from proceeding. The novel took place over a large amount of time with abrupt jumps in time with little information provided about what had transpired. In all honesty I lost faith in Violet, her decision making abilities and motivations. There was no intrigue only the passing of time. I really wanted to consume myself with this novel but I find myself giving it 2 out of 5 stars. The writing wasn’t an issue, the novel suffered from a lack of storytelling. It felt as if Tan had a beginning and an end already planned out and simply used Violet, and her unnecessary struggles, as a means to an end. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Banned Books: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

             Janie’s been gone for quite some time and the man she ran off with is nowhere to be found. When she comes back to the home she shared with her late husband, gossip ensues. Inquiring minds want to know what’s happened to Janie. And it’s quite a story to tell. In a moment of reflection she divulges to her friend Phoeby what life has really been like for her. Raised by her grandmother and placed in an arranged marriage she didn’t know happiness. When she left him to marry another man with great dreams and ambition she became the mayor’s wife but didn’t have her own identity. It wasn’t until her later years that she found a man that truly made her happy and she was willing to give up all to be with him. 
              Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of a black woman living in West Florida in the early 20th century. Janie’s life is not only used as a vehicle to examine her growth but also to examine relationships between races so soon after the Emancipation Proclamation. Janie is told of the horror of slavery from her grandmother, Nanny, who had been a slave. Though her grandmother has Janie’s best interest at heart, she is making decisions without looking at the type of person Janie is. The arranged marriage was made in haste because Nanny wanted to see Janie married before she died. Janie’s happiness wasn’t put into consideration leading Janie to make rash and hurried decisions. How people viewed and considered Janie because she was black and a woman becomes a running theme throughout the novel. She fights to be independent and to be appreciated for who she is. The men she encounters throughout her life become a part of Janie’s struggles in positive and negative ways. Eventually we see Janie begin to establish herself and her value. She stops letting other peoples opinion and perception be a driving force in her life and she finds freedom in that release. 
                After reading this novel by Hurston I can understand why it is such a highly acclaimed novel. It is an in depth analysis of a woman’s life laced with honesty and integrity. While it is not my personal favorite, I did enjoy it and can appreciate its worth. The dialect used throughout the novel is laced with a southern drawl and written as one would speak which takes some getting used to and unfortunately for me it became a distraction. For that reason I am grateful that it wasn’t written in first person. Hurston also chose to highlight the racial relationships within the black community much more than she explored their relationships within the white community at the time. I found that interesting and applaud her for it. I feel like she handled what can be an extremely complicated and deeply felt divide within the black community very tactfully and honestly. Hurston was not in any way afraid to point out and investigate the cause of the divide and jealousy within the black community.
                Their Eyes Were Watching God currently sits on Time magazines “100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to 2005” but that hasn’t stopped it from being challenged. In 1997 parents tried and failed to ban the book from a High School in Brentsville, Virginia. In 2005 it was challenged yet again in Virginia by parents of students in Advanced English class. Both attempts at banning the book were based off the language and what they considered sexual explicitness. Even though this book has only been challenged, I still felt the need to add it to my Banned Book theme for this year. This is such an iconic book that highlights an important part of our history and even an attempt at banning it prohibits progress. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

The phones began ringing on a Friday in Coldwater, Michigan. Tess got a call from her mother, who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease and died four years earlier. Katherine talked to her sister, Diane, who had died from an aneurysm two years ago. Jack, the chief of police, had lost his son, Robbie, in Afghanistan and was able to talk to him for the first time in years that Friday. Weeks later Katherine would tell the church congregation that she had been talking to her sister. Word spread fast through the small town and soon everyone was expecting a phone call from deceased loved ones. Jules, was included in that number. Jules was hoping to hear from his mother, Giselle, who had died months earlier while her husband, Sully, was in prison. The phone calls came the day Sully was released and he refused to believe they were true. There were skeptics like Sully throughout the town and the country as media coverage increased regarding these calls from beyond. People flocked to the town as the phone calls continued to come, most filled with hope that they too would be chosen. Many just wondered if phone calls from heaven could possibly be real. 
How would you react to a phone call from heaven? Would you be a skeptic or elated? Would you share the news to with the world or keep it to yourself? The First Phone Call from Heaven deals with all the emotions that come with recovering from the death of those around us. Through the many different characters we see the levels of confusion, fear, happiness, anger and, most of all, hope. Each character has a different experience in relation to these phone calls, how they deal with what they are told and how they reject or accept the occurrences. Katherine was moved to share. Tess was moved to help. One person chose to run. There was no correct way to respond to something this unfathomable. The depth of the emotions and how everyone chooses to react during the four months this novel took place is an examination of faith or the lack thereof.

I have been a huge fan of Mitch Albom for years. He is great at examining questions of faith and exploring different aspects of Christianity. The First Phone Call from Heaven is no exception. It was well written, wonderfully imagined, and thought provoking. Everyone questions what happens after death and in this novel that idea is explored in a very simple and straight forward way. Albom makes it clear that faith depends on the individual. How you choose to celebrate or accept that faith is up to you. No one can change your beliefs but you and understanding that will shape your faith. I enjoyed this novel and give it 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend Albom as an author and this was a great novel by him. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Banned Books: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim has been a Chaplain’s Assistant in World War II, a prisoner of war, a survivor in Dresden, an optometrist, a plane crash survivor and he has also been abducted by Tralfamadorians, taken to their planet and put on display in a human zoo. Oh, he also travels through time, revisiting moments in life. Being able to travel through time has given Billy a unique perspective on life: everything that will happen, has already happened and nothing will prevent it from happening over and over again. Why else would he get on a plane he knew was going to crash, unless he knew he would be the only survivor? But Billy is somewhat burdened by his ability to time travel. He struggles with the idea of peace and whether or not peace can exist on Earth as it does in Tralfamdore. What Billy hasn’t been able to do is focus on those moments that make him happy. It’s obvious in his travels that he focuses on the moments that cause him the most pain and trouble. How can Billy believe in peace when he constantly travels to the moments that cause him the most pain?
                Slaughterhouse Five was a novel fraught with emotional challenges for Billy, the main character. He had experienced horrific circumstances throughout his adult life and has to create ways of coping with tragedy. He is convinced he can travel through time and this belief enables him to accept the things he cannot change. Billy also believes he has been abducted by aliens. Those aliens help instill in him different levels of awareness and acceptance. His confusion about their existence allows him to question different aspects of life. He constantly revisits the events of World War II and the fire-bombing of Dresden.  It seems throughout the narration, as if Billy’s time in the war, his capture and his survival are the defining moments of his life. But he is still unable to make sense of anything that occurred. His survival through the war haunts him and he is constantly pulled to those moments. These reoccurring moments in time prevent him from finding peace because he can’t focus on positive moments in the midst of a war.
                Vonnegut’s satirical novel about this soldier’s life during and after the war was well written, uniquely narrated, humorous and draws into question how people choose to survive and thrive after experiencing horrific events. Are we able to choose the moments that affect us the most or are we automatically drawn to the moments where we struggled and had to fight to survive? Billy’s method of coping is unique and not very effective but he is able to use it to reassure himself and pass the time. I will say that while reading this novel I had a hard time visualizing why it would be banned. The narration was simply and not very vulgar. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of sexual reference or devious act. Then I thought, well maybe the mention of the Dresden bombings, its implications and the ignorance of the American public to the tragedy at that time may be reasons people could use to ban the novel. Alas, no. The American Library Association list reasons for banning ranging from foul language, references to God, and a few sexual references. It was even burned in North Dakota in 1973! The references they are inferring for reasons to ban the book make up a small amount of the novels contents.

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics/reasons  March 25, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

                On December 26,2014, Sonali Deraniyagala watched as the tsunami came barreling towards Yala Safari Beach Hotel, where she was vacationing with her husband, parents and two young sons. She was the only person in her family to survive. It took days for the bodies of her parents and oldest son to be found. Months before her husband and sons bodies were recovered. The pain and guilt she suffered was eloquently described in the pages of Wave. The shock, the suicidal tendencies, the pills, the fear and the loss were all described by Sonali in this heart wrenching account of survival.
                When I first picked up Wave I expected it to be a harrowing account of survival and the fight to live. I expected a detailed explanation of the tsunami crashing through Sri Lanka, with the roar of the wave blazing through the pages. I got chaos. Indescribable chaos filled with fear and confusion. It was an incredibly honest description of one of the worst natural disasters ever. Sonali made it clear that the loss she felt was all encompassing. The despair, rage, and anger she felt over her survival and the death of her loved ones was raw throughout the entire book. And never ending. It took her months to want to live and years to begin to move towards a new life. The pain was evident and raw. The trauma and depression evident. The guilt was tangible. The loss was heart breaking.

                I can only applaud Sonali Deraniyagala for being as honest as she was throughout this biography. I can’t imagine how painful it was to write and detail her experience in Sri Lanka. Deraniyagala was very detail oriented in recounting the ordeal, describing the pain she felt when in the water, how she survived, the emotions she experienced while waiting in the hospital and the wait. The grief. The overwhelming grief. Wave was so filled with emotion. I give it 4 out 5 stars. I was completely absorbed in the novel and could not put it down but it lacked in editing. I would recommend it but not for the faint of heart. This is truly an account of woman who lost it all and had to find the strength to continuing living without the ones she loved. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Banned Books: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

After the death of their Ma, sisters Celie and Nettie find strength and love in each other. The daughter and son Celie had by Pa are gone. Dead for all Celie knows. But there are still young children in the home that need to be raised and that responsibility landed on Celie. Until Pa found a new wife that is. Once the caretaker responsibilities were taken over Celie was married off. Nettie ran away from her Pa and her new stepma shortly thereafter, to Celie’s home with her new husband. After Nettie rejected Mr, Celie's new husband's, advances she had to leave, not knowing when she would ever see Celie again. With the only person she truly loved gone, Celie felt weak. The abuse she suffered under Mr and his children made her weaker still. Raising someone else’s children when unsure of the life her own pained her. She turned to prayer throughout, trying to affirm her belief that a higher being cared about her and her Nettie.
                The Color Purple looks at the lives of two sisters whose paths diverge at a young age. Celie, the oldest, is entered into a loveless marriage where she is treated more like a maid than a wife. She is forced to raise her husband’s ungrateful children and bed him whenever he pleases. She was sexually abused by her father at a young age and bore him two children. She is unaware of the safety of those two children and their missing presence in her life weighs on her greatly. Nettie’s life is a mystery to Celie for many years as well. All communication between Celie and Nettie had been severed because of Mr’s interference. The loneliness Celie feels at times is all encompassing. It’s the journey of these sisters, the strength they have to muster, and the unceasing love they have for each other that made this novel emotional and captivating.
                Walker created a cast of well developed, emotionally complex, and damaged characters and created a story that was heart wrenching, painful and worthy of standing the test of time. I became invested in this story and the characters from the very beginning. It is hard to imagine the pain that these characters experienced and the lives they were forced to live. Reading the correspondences that Celie would write, which was her last bit of hope, were painful. No one should have to experience the heartache, confusion, abuse and mistreatment the characters suffered but it was evident with every turn of the page. Celie’s spirituality and its evolution as she aged was interesting. She evolved into another person and her faith and spiritual belief reflected that. It was intriguing to watch the new ideals take shape.
                Some of the many themes Walker explored throughout The Color Purple were sexuality, abuse, incest, and racism. All of these themes have also been the reasons why The Color Purple has been banned from schools around the country. The American Library Association list many occasions when this novel has been banned with the most recent being in Morgantown, North Carolina in 2008. Parents found the book inappropriate. Discussions about problems described in novels should be used to explore these issues. Banning material about matters that may be deemed inappropriate to some, in no way prevent them from being part of history and, in some cases, what is still present in society.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

              Henry Shackleford was a young slave boy in 1856 when he happened across the path of the famous and feared abolitionist, John Brown. His father was killed and he was freed from his owner after Brown was confronted by Pro-slavers in the Kansas Territory where Henry was living. Old Man Brown believed Henry was a girl, and unintentionally set up the disguise that would keep Henry alive while in Brown’s company. Through his eyes we learn the history of Old John Brown, his passion for the Lord and his fight for the freedom of slaves which would eventually lead to the beginning of the Civil War. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman make appearances in the novel as Brown consults with both in his quest.  For almost four years Henry lived his life as a girl, protecting his own skin. During that time we see the sacrifices made by Old Man Brown, the bravery of slaves and those who would risk their lives to set them free.
                The Good Lord Bird is a historical fiction novel that used the mask of a coward to tell a story of bravery. Make no mistake about it, Henry was a coward who was set up on saving his own skin. Once he realized how advantageous it was to live his life as a girl, he played along gladly. He watched other men come and go proudly risking their necks for his “kind” while he wouldn’t lift a finger to fight for the cause. There were many moments throughout the novel when Henry would reflect on his own fear, the fear of the other slaves and feel guilty. But that guilt was not enough to make him come out of hiding. His plight was definitely an ongoing theme in the novel because it wasn’t just him that was unwillingly to fight. John Brown, a white man, was willing and ready to fight to the end for his cause but whenever he reached out to the masses of slaves to fight for themselves, they were afraid and rightfully so. No one knew who to trust, and it could cost you your life to trust in the wrong person.
                I am a huge fan of historical fiction novels and this novel was written well with just the right amount of fact and fiction to keep me interested. I always feel like a historical fiction novel is a success if it makes me want to research the topic at hand once I’ve finished. This novel fits the bill. McBride took an unconventional approach to telling the story by having our narrator play a young boy in drag but it made the story somewhat amusing. Henry is a man during the retelling and wise enough now to admit his faults and truly reflect on the situation.

 I thought this was a great read and give it 4 out of 5 stars. It does get repetitive at times and the language reflects that of the times, so expect to see “nigger” more times in a page than you would like to hear in your life. I recommend it because it was an honest novel that exposed the actions of those willing to fight against slavery in the last 1850’s. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Banned Books: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

               Follow the journey of our unnamed narrator through his life as an invisible man. Begin with him as a youth listening to the fateful words of his grandfather, as he urges the family to keep fighting, words that would effectively confuse and influence our narrator. Watch as he fights to receive a scholarship to a university. Pay attention when chance ruins his chance to be an educator and a scholar. Feel the pain he feels when he realizes how horribly he has been deceived. Be hopeful, with our narrator, for the change he thinks will come. Experience life with our unnamed narrator, the black man who changes his identity, only to realize that he, no matter what his name may be, would be used. Until he allowed himself to be invisible.
                Ellison wrote an amazing novel that was extremely conscious of the sensitivities of America and race in the 1940’s and can still be seen in society today, though some may argue not to this extent. Our narrator is never named, so as the readers we are never given an identity for him. We only know that he is a young black man from the south. As circumstances change we travel with him north to New York, where as circumstances changes, his reality changes, his identity changes. Ideas about himself and his position in society changes. He becomes a leader and a beacon for people. A partner, or so he believes, in a movement. But the truth about the motivations of others will continue to affect him until he realizes what his true role is.
                I found Invisible Man to be an extremely well written and fully developed novel. The narrator is continually put into situations where he has to redefine what he stands for, who he is and the kind of man he wants to be. Everyone experiences these kinds of situations and how we emerge from them develops our character. When Ellison adds in the aspect and element of race relations into the novel, the stakes become higher. This novel was released in 1952 when race was still very much as issue in America. Jim Crow laws were still in effect at this time. Discrimination ran rampant and there was a lot of mistrust not only between black and white people but within the black community. This novel is filled with the reality of a black man in the 1940’s. Every decision the narrator made has an effect on not only how he was perceived but how his community was perceived and not everyone agreed with him or what he represented.
                It has come to my attention that people believe that banned books are a myth or a thing of the past. This book was banned last year in North Carolina. The school board put Invisible Man to a vote after a complaint stating that the book was not appropriate for teenagers because of its language about race and incest. The ban was put into place then lifted nine days later after the school board was bombarded with emails from outraged citizens. They also received a letter condemning their decision by the American Library Association. Time has changed but this work of literature is an example of not only amazing writing but of a time when things were terribly different. Fictional accounts of unnamed character full of honesty and emotion, may be intimidating for some but everyone should be given the opportunity to read it. Banning words doesn’t change the past, it limits the future.

“ ‘Invisible Man’ ban rescinded by North Carolina school board” by David Zucchino