Tag-Archive for ◊ boundaries ◊

Author:
• Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras, now Chennai, India. He grew up in Mangalore where he went to Canara High School. In1990 he graduated from St. Aloysius High School in Andhra Pradesh. He emigrated in the 90s with his family to Sydney Australia and continued his studies in St. James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, followed by English literature at Columbia College, Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1997. He also studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Starting his career he worked as a journalist for the Financial Times and Time Magazine.

Aravind Adiga lives in Mumbai, India and has written three novels to date:
Last Man In Tower, published in 2011.
Between The Assassinations (short stories/essays) published in 2009.
The White Tiger, his début novel, published in 2008, has sold many copies in several countries – won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction and will be made into a film.

The story of The White Tiger is narrated during the course of seven nights as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who was visiting India at the time. The narrator is the novel’s main protagonist, the astute, determined, hard working, Balram Halwai. The Chinese premier wants “to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.”

Balram writes the letter to Wen Jiabao from his 150-square-foot office, which is the only one in Bangalore“with its own chandelier”. The letter is about Indian entrepreneurship and explains that, despite the servitude, destitution and corruption prevailing socially and politically in present-day India, there is still some integrity to be found and some hope for mankind.

Balram Halwai writes about how, according to his school teacher, despite being gifted with an intelligence as rare as the white tiger, he couldn’t pursue his studies. He is born into an impoverished family and has to do menial work in the village tea shop. Nevertheless, he aspires to a better future than his father, the rickshaw puller, who died of tuberculosis in extreme poverty.

The highly ambitious Balram tries to improve his status by becoming a driver/servant to a rich landlord from his village as a first step to climbing the ladder to a better life. He wants to prove that he is indeed a rare feline species, an atypical Indian who refuses to perpetuate or be part of the “Rooster Coop” establishment, as he calls it metaphorically. His aim is to break the Indian ingrained class boundaries taken for granted by society from top to bottom and find a way out of this ambit to freedom.

Throughout the narrative the story changes rapidly, especially after Balram travels with his employer to New Delhi. The big capital becomes more of an eye-opener for the countryman that he is and makes him firmer in his beliefs, while kindling his desire for a brighter life. He becomes a “Thinking Man”, a sort of a philosopher, a thief and a murderer, before ending up as an amoral, successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

He fulfils his ambition by becoming the proud owner of a taxi service through his auspicious Machiavellian plan of killing his master and stealing his money to finance his long coveted project – the White Tiger by now knows the law of the jungle. Balram watches his employers and proves to be a fast learner and a good observer, he becomes aware that in a corrupt society bribes are the only means to a successful business.

There are two phases in the novel, two different worlds: the rural dreary “Darkness”, the name given to a grim and rustic small village where Balram spent his young years in poverty before moving with Ashok, the young son of his employer, to the stimulating “Light” of the vibrant capital, New Delhi. In New Delhi he finds to his amazement the same constrained opportunities in the conventional, “Rooster Coop”. The wide breach he left behind, impersonated in the masters and chauffeurs/servants, is whirling around him. Even in this big city there is no escaping from class hierarchies and injustice.

The author is describing the current India and the considerable differences between the poor, backward rural areas and the advanced big cities. Through his writing the reader can detect his indignation, exasperation and concern about this important problem which might lead to an explosion one day if it is not addressed soon.

Aravind Adiga, tackles an array of subjects about Indian society. There is the caste system, the multiple religions and sects, the family ties and duties, democracy, corruption and advanced technology.

Balram Halwai, the main character, is interesting, witty and captivating, despite cool-bloodedly murdering his employer who treated him well. Nevertheless, in spite of his grim future in an unjust society maintained by the conservative mentality of people, is his act justified or even excusable? Couldn’t he find another way to attain his bid for autonomy without resorting to drastic measures? Knowing that reprisals will be swift on his family who will be killed because of his deed, as is customary in his village, are we to look upon him as a utopian, a rebel, a visionary or a common ruthless rogue, a social Machiavellian climber?

Through his main, cynical protagonist, the author is addressing the imperative future adjustments that have to be made in India, between the haves and the have nots. The well-being of citizens needs to be part of the economic prosperity of a country, as Balram says very succinctly to Wen Jiabao: “Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many”.

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Author:
• Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Kathryn Stockett was born in Jackson, Mississippi USA in 1969. She was raised by an African American maid called Demetrie McLorn and graduated from the University of Alabama after obtaining a degree in English and Creative Writing.

Aged twenty-four and with her diploma in hand she moved to New York where, for nine years, she worked in magazine publishing and marketing. Presently she lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

The Help, published in 2009, is Kathryn Stockett’s first novel. It took her five years to write and about sixty rejection letters from publishers because of its controversial subject matter. As soon as it was published it became a best seller and was on The New York Times Best Seller List for Fiction for a hundred weeks. It was Amazon’s Best Books of the year 2009 and was long listed for the Orange Prize in 2010. It won the Townsend Prize for Fiction in 2010 and the exclusive Books Boeke Prize in 2009. The Help has been published in thirty five countries, translated into several languages, has sold over five million copies and was released as a film in August 2011.

Kathryn Stockett’s next book will again be located in Mississippi and will also be about women, but this time will be set during the period of the Great Depression.

The story of The Help takes place in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960’s, a crucial period for American Civil Rights. It’s a few months away from Martin Luther King’s memorable “I have a dream” speech that took place in Washington D.C. in 1963 and a few years after the civil rights and freedom movement of the mid-fifties by Rosa Parks. It’s a couple of years away from the abolition of Jim Crow’s end of the 19th century segregation laws against African Americans by president Lyndon B. Johnson in Congress in1964, making racial discrimination illegal.

In The Help, there are three main characters who take turns in the narration: Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. The novel starts and ends with Aibileen, the oldest and wisest of the three. She is an African American maid in her fifties who, in a maternal loving way, raised seventeen white children in her lifetime along with the cooking and cleaning. Her love and care is often shown in the novel in the way she is raising Mae Mobley, the Leefolt toddler, as a surrogate mother. She is grieving over the loss of her only young son in a work accident, which was blatantly disregarded by his employer and which she was obliged to accept.

Aibileen’s best friend, Minny, is also an African American maid. She is younger than Aibileen, but unlike her, she is derisive, impetuous, indocile and bottles a great deal of anger in herself which makes it hard for her to keep her employments for long. She says to Miss Celia Foote, her present employer and who is labelled by society as “white trash”: “I got knowed for my mouth round town. And I figure that’s what it be, why nobody want to hire me”. Her wrath explodes when she prepares the chocolate custard pie that she bakes and combines with the ingredients her own faeces as a revenge and as a kept promise when she said “eat my shit” to her worst enemy, the loathsome, Miss Hilly Holbrook, who loves the cake and eats two big pieces of it rashly and voraciously, oblivious of what it hides inside. As Minny describes it: “she stuff it in her mouth like she ain’t ever eaten nothing so good…What do you put in here, Minny, that makes it taste so good?”
Minny was delighted to reveal to her what she had added to the ingredients and shocked Miss Hilly and her mother beyond belief.

The twenty-two-year-old Eugenia Phelan or Miss Skeeter is the youngest of the three. She is the daughter of a white family of cotton growers, who, like many southerners, employs black people in their fields and in their household as domestic servants. After graduating, Skeeter returns home to look for a job as a writer. She is emancipated, ambitious and thinks she can change the cruel, unfair, world she grew up in with its racism and injustice, which nobody in her conservative surroundings conveniently seems to notice. She is unruly, defiant and stands firm for her beliefs.

Outraged by the iniquities and unacceptable racism prevailing around her and even among her closest friends, Skeeter secretly decides to encourage the African American maids of her entourage to tell her their stories while in service with white families. To avoid retaliation, she is not going to sign her name as the author of her planned, anti-establishment, daring book and she promises the maids anonymity by using pseudonyms and by calling the city, Niceville. The oppressed, unfairly treated but unyielding maids accept to cooperate with Miss Skeeter.

The risk taken by Skeeter is similar to the one taken by Stockett for her début novel, racial boundaries still being a controversial subject in the south of USA. One simply does not “talk about such uncomfortable things”.

Although Skeeter is very secretive about her planned book, she succeeds in creating enemies around her and among her best friends, especially the self proclaimed leader, Hilly Holbrook, her childhood friend. Hilly is the president of the Junior League in Jackson Mississippi. She is racist, overbearing, arrogant and heartless and couldn’t put up with any person opposing her – people follow her in fear of her acrimony or reprisals.

Skeeter’s maid, Constantine, is presumably included in the novel in loving memory of Demetrie McLorn, the African American maid who worked for the Stockett family for fifty years. The author said in an interview that she started writing her novel in the voices of Demetrie, her black maid who died when Stockett was just sixteen-years-old. She raised her and was closer to her and her siblings than their absentee mother. However, The Help was not dedicated to Demetrie McLorn but to the author’s grandfather Stockett who was “the best story teller of all”, she said.

On the other hand Stockett included Demetrie McLorn in the acknowledgements. The author wrote: “My belated thanks to Demetrie Mclorn, who carried us all out of the hospital wrapped in our baby blankets and spent her life feeding us, picking up after us, loving us and thank God, forgiving us”. She also included her in her postscript: “Too Little, Too Late, Kathryn Stockett, in her own words”.

When the author was asked about her favourite character in the novel she said : “Aibileen is my favourite because she shares the gentleness of Demetrie”.

After failing her first writing attempt and after going through the terrible 9/11 event while living in New York city, Stockett felt homesick and said she wanted “to hear or revisit, those voices from her past”. That is when she decided to write The Help, a novel about her home town with the heavy, outdated dialect which made the story three dimensional for the readers and despite being an easy to read novel, it needed some getting used to for non natives.

The author reveals the gangrene that rots American society, like racism, class prejudices and the survival of the fittest and powerful. The novel is sometimes jocose despite its sadness, in order to ease the overwhelming intensity, but unfortunately it is often repulsively inhuman, poignant and moving. Albeit the tentative optimistic ending of a new era shining on the horizon, there is the success of Miss Skeeter’s book and her moving on to fulfil her dream by accepting a job offer at Harper’s magazine in New York, as a copy editor’s assistant.

There is also Minny, who at last wants to assert her independence by leading a new life away from her brutal and abusive husband.

The same optimism is displayed with Aibileen walking back home in the bright sunshine. She has just been fired by the weak charactered, Miss Elisabeth Leefolt, who receives the order from Miss Hilly Holbrook and carries it out without hesitation, despite the fact that Aibileen has been a good valuable, honest worker to the Leefolt family. The tenacious, Aibileen still holds some hope for the future, thinking that she is not too old after all to start another job as a writer.

All very optimistic and auspicious, but sadly there is still a long way to go in order to abolish the racism and hatred nourished by segregation that still prevails today in many communities of the world.