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Archive for June, 2012

This is the second week of the readalong of ‘Prodigal Summer’ that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. This week we are covering chapters nine through eighteen from the book.

This part of the book expands all the three story strands in detail. We get to know more about how Garnett Walker is trying to revive the American chestnut tree by cross pollinating it with the Chinese chestnut so that the new breed which comes out has the properties of the American chestnut, but is resistant to blight as the Chinese chestnut is. The small skirmishes between Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley come out in the open. Both of them start writing letters to each other describing their thoughts on how a farm should be run and what they think about insecticides and pesticides. Garnett believes in the modern way of doing things – use a lot of insecticides and pesticides and kill unwanted pests so that the crop can survive. Nannie is old-fashioned in her thoughts – she feels that pesticides are counter-productive and they are also not good for the people who eat the farm produce. She believes in organic farming. Garnett and Nannie have long conversations on this topic – through letters and in person. In the first part of the book, I tended to side with Garnett and found Nannie a bit irritating, though she made only a fleeting appearance in that part of the book. However, in the second part of the book, I tended to side with Nannie and started liking her more, after her conversations with Garnett.

 

The second part of the book also explored the story of Deanna and the stranger she is attracted to, Eddie, in more detail. Eddie starts coming more often to Deanna’s cabin in the forest and staying with her. Deanna discovers that there is a coyote family which has moved to this part of the mountains. She knows that farmers hate coyotes and kill them when they see them. According to her, coyotes don’t trouble farmers and mind their business, but people are conditioned to dislike them and kill them. Then to her shock she discovers that Eddie dislikes coyotes and is probably a coyote hunter. She is in a difficult spot, trying to balance her love for Eddie and her love for coyotes. This part of the story also reveals that Nannie Rawley and Deanna are related in a way – that Deanna’s father and Nannie Rawley were seeing each other for a while and even had a daughter, who died young.

 

The story of Lusa gets interesting in this part of the book. She is struggling to cope with the loss of her husband. She discovers new things about him from her in-laws, which surprise her. For example, he was a romantic as a farmer – he didn’t want to grow tobacco but wanted to grow other produce which was useful, but had to give up after years of trying, when it turned out that his plans were not financially viable. Interestingly and unexpectedly, she also becomes friends with Jewel, one of her sisters-in-law and discovers that her in-laws are not bad at all. She also becomes friends with Rickie, the son of one of her sisters-in-law. One of my favourite parts of this story was when Lusa and Rickie have a long conversation, when he comes to visit her – they talk about life in the farm, about her husband Cole, and other things. During the course of this conversation, Lusa tells Rickie that she is planning to rear goats in her farm to generate money to run the farm and he helps her with information on how to rear goats and also asks her to talk to Garnett Walker who is regarded as the expert in goats in that area. In a later chapter, Lusa invites all her in-laws for an evening at her home and the whole family is there. During the course of the evening Lusa discovers that her in-laws are friendly in their own way and they are not that as bad as she thought. Lusa also gets to know Jewel’s daughter Crys, who seems to look like a trouble-maker from the outside, but who Lusa discovers is a gentle and tortured soul inside.

 

This part of the book expands the stories of the three main characters – Deanna, Lusa and Garnett. It also introduces some new interesting characters like Rickie and Crys and explores some of the previously introduced characters in depth like Nannie Rawley and Jewel.

 

There is a little bit on coyotes in this part of the book, but there is not much on the Luna Moth. There is more conversation and the plot picks up pace, but there is less on nature, when compared to the first part. However those beautiful passages on nature – Barbara Kingsolver keeps them coming.

 

When I read the first part of the book, my favourite character was Deanna, though I warmed up to Lusa towards the end. During the second part of the book, I still liked Deanna, but I also felt that Lusa’s character was getting fleshed out more. Kingsolver spent more time describing Lusa’s life in the farm and the story picked up pace here. There were some wonderful conversations in this story strand – between Lusa and Rickie, Lusa and Crys – and they were a pleasure to read. At the end of this part I liked Lusa as much as Deanna, maybe a little bit more. I also started warming up towards Nannie Rawley as she started making more appearances in the story.

 

Another interesting thing in this part of the book was the connections which Kingsolver reveals between the three story strands. Deanna seems to be related to Nannie Rawley, while the cabin that Deanna stays in, in the forest, was built by Garnett Walker’s family. Lusa calls Garnett Walker for information regarding rearing goats. Deanna and Lusa don’t seem to have any connection till now, but I will look forward to finding out whether they talk or meet in the third part of the story.

 

I read the second part of the book faster than the first part, because the plot picked up pace and there was a lot of dialogue. What will happen in the third part? Will Garnett be able to revive the American chestnut? Will Deanna be able to save the coyotes? Will Lusa’s plan of rearing goats work? Also will Lusa be able to continue her friendship with Jewel, Rickie and Crys? I can’t wait to find out.

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages.

 

The loudest sound on the earth, she thought, is a man with nothing to do.

How pointless life could be, what a foolish business of inventing things to love, just so you could dread losing them.

She breathed deeply and tried not to hate this snake. Doing his job, was all. Living out his life like the thousand other copperheads on this mountain that would never be seen by human eyes, they wanted only their one or two rodents a month, the living wage, a contribution to balance. Not one of them wanted to be stepped on or, heaven forbid, o have to sink its fangs into a monstrous, inedible animal a hundred times its size – a waste of expensive toxin at best. She knew all this. You can stare at a thing and know that you personally have no place in its heart whatsoever, but keeping it out of yours is another matter.

She pulled the blankets over her head, leaving a small window through which he could watch his careful, steady hands place kindling inside the stove. She thought about the things people did with their highly praised hands : made fires that burned out; sawed down trees to build houses that would rot and fall down in time. How could those things compare with the grace of a moth on a leaf, laying perfect rows of tiny, glassy eggs? Or a phoebe weaving a nest of moss in which to hatch her brood? Still, as she watched him light a match and bring warmth into the cabin while the rain pounded down overhead, she let herself feel thankful for those hands, at least for right now. When he climbed into bed beside her, they held her until she fell asleep.

 

You can find Delia’s thoughts on the second part of ‘Prodigal Summer’ here.

 

Have you read ‘Prodigal Summer’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ by Mia March through Kelly’s (from Kelly Vision) review of it. I love books with a movie theme – I loved ‘The Film Club’ by David Gilmour. So, when I read Kelly’s review, I couldn’t resist getting the book. I rarely get a book as soon as it comes out – I am normally the last guy to know about a new book release – and so it was one of the rare occasions when I got a book as soon as it came out. The book came out in June, I got it in June and I read it in June. I haven’t done something like this since the Harry Potter series came out. Here is what I think about the book.

 

 

‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ is about two sisters Isabel and June, their cousin Kat and their aunt Lolly, Kat’s mother. Isabel and June have lost their parents in an accident which takes away Lolly’s husband too. Lolly brings up the two sisters and her own daughter. Lolly runs an inn in Boothbay harbour, Maine and the three young girls grow up there. They don’t see eye-to-eye with each other.

 

When her parents die, Isabel is comforted by Edward, who lives nearby. Isabel and Edward fall in love, get married and move out of Boothbay. Initially, Isabel and Edward have a beautiful, fairytale marriage. They have a pact from the start – to have no children. But after ten years of marriage, Isabel starts yearning for a baby. She talks about it with Edward but he tells her about the pact and drops the topic. This brings a distance between them. Isabel tries to make up, but Edward becomes more and more distant. One day Isabel discovers that Edward is having an affair with a married woman who has a baby of her own. Isabel is so shocked that she walks out of her home.

 

June goes to Columbia university to study journalism. One day Isabel meets a young man with a most universal name, John Smith. John Smith has a most common name, but as a human being he is not so common at all. June falls in love with him and John makes her feel special. John tells her that he is a student, who has taken a break from work to travel around and explore his country. They spend two days together. They make plans for the third day, but John doesn’t turn up. June searches for him, but to no avail. June then discovers that she is pregnant. She is devastated. She is not able to continue her studies at university and goes back to Boothbay. She stays with her aunt and works in a local bookstore. Henry, who owns the local bookstore, helps her out during this difficult time and is like a rock. June has a beautiful son called Charlie, who looks very much like John. At one point, June moves out of Boothbay to Portland, where Henry has another branch of his bookstore.

 

Kat stays with her mother, and helps her out at the inn. She also learns baking and starts her own business from the inn, baking beautiful birthday cakes for her clients who order them frequently. She hopes to start her own bakery in the town some day soon. Kat’s best friend in Boothbay is Oliver. Both of them know each other since they were five years old. As they grow older, Oliver falls in love with Kat. Kat is not sure about her feelings for him. She thinks in her heart that she loves him, but does not seem to have any romantic feelings towards him.

 

This is the point at which the main part of the book starts. Lolly invites her two nieces to the inn, telling them that she has an important announcement to make. She also tells Kat about this. The three women are puzzled at what Lolly was going to tell them. They arrive at the inn during the week. After dinner, Lolly makes an announcement. It is devastating for all the three of them. They were already coping with challenges in their lives and now they get news which knocks them over. While they are struggling to cope with the news, Lolly tells them that it is Meryl Streep Month and invites them to come and watch ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ the first night. They are joined by Lolly’s friend Pearl and some of the guests staying at the inn. The weeks run by, as the four women stay together in the inn, learn new things about each other, learn to become friends with each other, watch Meryl Streep movies together and talk about them, discover surprising ways in which Meryl Streep movies reflect their own lives. During the time they discover themselves, get to know secrets from their past, meet new people, fall in love. There is a sad event in the end for the reader, but there are some happy endings as well.

 

I enjoyed reading ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’. It was a nice, comfortable, fast-paced summer read. Watching movies together, discussing about them and using that to resolve life’s problems is an interesting idea. I couldn’t help comparing this book to Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. I felt that the prose in ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ was better – it had so many quotable quotes. In contrast, Mia March’s style is more conversational – she sprinkles words like gorgeous, awesome and handsome liberally throughout the book. She also mentions types of cakes and the icings they have, quite often, while creating the atmosphere of the film night. Sometimes it does get a bit repetitive. But the thing I liked about ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ was that it felt like one was part of a conversation with real people. One became a part of the book. There was no attempt by the author to makes the sentences in the book look more beautiful and deep – it was all so natural. Normally when one is part of a beautiful conversation with one’s friends or with one’s near and dear ones, there are not many quotable quotes that one remembers later. But the whole experience is pleasant and there is a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of the conversation. That is what I felt when I finished ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’. That is one of the strengths of the book, I think. My favourite part of the book was the story of June – how she is disappointed when John doesn’t turn up, how her life is thrown out of gear because of her pregnancy, how she ends up working in a bookstore and how she falls in love with it, how she loves her son, how after years she decides to search for John’s family so that her son could get to know his father and the surprising things that happen.

 

Now, something on Meryl Streep. I was a late comer to Meryl Streep. The first movie of hers that I watched was ‘Death Becomes Her’. (For some reason, this movie is virtually unknown today.  It won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects). It didn’t make me love Meryl Streep. I saw more movies of hers, but I didn’t like her till I saw ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’. Then I saw a few more of her movies, and I liked some of them. My favourite Meryl Streep movies, as of today, are ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’ (though I didn’t really love her character in the movie), ‘Doubt’ (though I hated her character in that movie, I loved her performance – it was amazing acting. She should have won an Oscar for that) and ‘Mamma Mia’ (probably my most favourite Meryl Streep movie – loved her character, loved Meryl Streep, loved her singing). I liked ‘The Iron Lady’ too. I need to watch ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Sophie’s Choice’, ‘The Deer Hunter’, ‘Postcards from the Edge’ and ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ before deciding whether to include more movies on this list. Meryl Streep is not my most favourite actress from her generation. Susan Sarandon is. I don’t know a Susan Sarandon movie that I haven’t liked. I have loved every movie of hers that I have watched. Meryl Streep’s movies didn’t work like that for me. (Meryl’s fans are going to kill me, I know!) But Meryl Streep’s filmography is awesome. Most actresses and actors fade away after their prime. They end up acting in comedies or in TV series. (There is nothing wrong in acting in comedies or TV series. I love comedies and TV series. But one gets the feeling that the actor / actress is cruising on autopilot mode.) But not Meryl Streep. Her three best actress Oscar nominations (with one win) in the last four years is really something. It shows her passion for her art.

 

The movies that are discussed in ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ are mostly movies which are related to the central themes of the book – love and affairs. The movies discussed in the book are ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Heartburn’, ‘Defending Your Life’, ‘Kramer vs Kramer’, ‘Postcards from the Edge’, ‘It’s Complicated’, ‘Out of Africa’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. Out of these, I have seen ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. I have also seen bits-and-pieces of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Out of Africa’. While reading the book I also discovered that I have watched ‘It’s Complicated’, though I couldn’t remember that till I read about it. Other Meryl Streep movies are mentioned in the book in passing – like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘The Iron Lady’ – but they are really not part of the book. I was disappointed that ‘The Hours’ wasn’t mentioned. And neither was ‘Doubt’ nor ‘The Deer Hunter’. Probably because they don’t fit the theme of the book. Four of the movies discussed in the book are also from recent years – I don’t know whether this was done to appeal to a modern audience.

 

‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ is a light, fast-paced, summer read. It is a good book to read while sitting in your garden, munching a cupcake and sipping your afternoon tea. I am glad I read it. I think it will make a good movie too.

 

I will leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

 

      “Reading her journals won’t tell you who you used to be. It’ll tell you who your mother was, what she thought. Really thought. Not what you think she thought. Not who you think you were through her eyes. There’s a lot you didn’t know about your mother.”

 

      When Charlie came into the kitchen in his Spider-Man pajamas and rumpled hair, flinging himself into June’s lap for a hug, Marley’s expression changed.

      “Oh my God,” Marley said, her eyes full of something like shining wonder.

      “Yeah,” June whispered. “No matter what, this is what you get.”

 

Have you read ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’? Do you like Meryl Streep’s movies? Which movie of hers is your favourite?

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I discovered Barbara Kingsolver through a book club friend. Then many other friends of mine recommended her works, especially because of the way she depicts nature in her works. I was thinking that I will read ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ first because it seemed to be her most famous work. Then during one of my browsing sessions at the bookstore, I discovered ‘Prodigal Summer’. I read the blurb on the back cover and the first page of the book and I loved it and got it. When Delia from Postcards from Asia suggested that we do a readalong of ‘Prodigal Summer’, I thought that was a wonderful idea. We decided to read the first eight chapters of the book and post on it this weekend and take it from there. Here is what I think of the first eight chapters.

 

‘Prodigal Summer’ has three story strands. One is about Deanna, a forest officer, who lives in a cabin in the forest and who likes solitude and tracking animals which are rare or unusual to that geography. Her present interest is in following the trail of what looks like a family of coyotes. One of the days she is on the trail, she meets a stranger who seems to have followed her silently. They have a brief conversation and she waves him off and he disappears. He comes back a few days later. This time it is difficult for her to resist having a longer talk with him. Deanna is attracted towards him and they spend time together. Then the stranger disappears again and Deanna starts missing him. After a while he comes back again and Deanna is torn on what to do. She loves her solitude but she is also intensely attracted towards this stranger who has shattered her solitary, tranquil existence. The second strand of the story is about Lusa, who has recently lost her husband Cole in an accident. Both of them had been married for just a year. Lusa was a researcher at the university in the nearby town, before she got married. Cole is a farmer. Lusa is from a multicultural background, while Cole is from a traditional farming family. So, when they get married, Cole’s sisters and in-laws and other people around find it difficult to accept Lusa as part of their community. Or atleast she feels that way. Now Cole is gone and Lusa struggles to cope with her grief. Cole’s farm comes to her, but Lusa doesn’t have the knowledge and the experience to handle it. There is one particular scene where her in-laws want to help her plant tobacco and Lusa resists it. She wants to plant something useful in the farm – like tomatoes or potatoes. Because she is idealistic in her thinking – she thinks that tobacco is harmful while vegetables are useful. But then she discovers that it is difficult to make money, even for survival, by planting tomatoes or potatoes, while if she planted tobacco, she can manage the expenses for the next year. It is a struggle between doing the good thing and being practical. While she is torn between what to do while simultaneously coping with her grief, Lusa discovers an unlikely ally and friend in her sister-in-law Jewel. During her conversations with Jewel, Lusa discovers an unknown, romantic side of her husband Cole. The third strand of the story is about an old man Garnett who has frequent fights with his neighbour Nannie Rawley, an old lady who is smart and clever, loves nature and frequently foils Garnett’s plans.

 

Two things that I really love about ‘Prodigal Summer’ till now are Barbara Kingsolver’s beautiful prose and her descriptions of nature. Her love for nature and wildlife comes through in every page and every sentence. The book starts with this paragraph :

 

Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.

 

How can one not fall in love with a book, with a first paragraph like that? I love the way Kingsolver shifts perspective in the second sentence itself and shows the world from a totally new angle.

 

Barbara Kingsolver also talks a lot about nature in the book. Some of them are factoids. Others are beautiful descriptions in poetic prose. Some readers might find the factoids a bit digressing. Not me. I loved them. Two of the things she talks about are the coyote and the luna moth. It was fascinating for me to read about both of them. I didn’t know that coyotes were matriarchal, and there was an alpha female which gave birth to cubs while other females in the family helped in raising the cubs. Coyotes seem to be fascinating animals. It was also interesting to read about the luna moth – that it doesn’t have a mouth and so cannot eat, has only a lifespan of a week and has to find a mate before that time and procreate. It felt both romantic and tragic – romantic because a luna moth’s only purpose in life was to find love and tragic because it cannot eat and live like the rest of us.

 

Some of my favourite passages in the book, till now, are these :

 

It seemed unbelievable that his disturbance of the branch could release a burst of scent that would reach her here at the house, but the breeze was gentle and coming from exactly the right direction. People in Appalachia insisted that the mountains breathed, and it was true : the steep hollow behind the farmhouse took up one long, slow inhalation every morning and let it back down through their open windows and across the fields throughout evening – just one full, deep breath each day. When Lusa first visited Cole here she’d listened to talk of mountains breathing with a tolerant smile. She had some respect for the poetry of country people’s language, if not for the veracity of their perceptions : mountains breathe, and a snake won’t die till the sun goes down, even if you chop off its head. If a snapping turtle gets hold of you, he won’t let go till it thunders. But when she married Cole and moved her life into this house, the inhalations of Zebulon Mountain touched her face all morning, and finally she understood. She learned to tell time with her skin, as morning turned to afternoon and the mountain’s breath began to bear gently on the back of her neck. By early evening it was insistent as a lover’s sigh, sweetened by the damp woods, cooling her nape and shoulders whenever she paused her work in the kitchen to lift her sweat-damp curls off her neck. She had come to think of Zebulon as another man in her life, larger and steadier than any other companion she had known.

 

Arguments could fill a marriage like water, running through everything, always, with no taste or color but lots of noise.

 

The dawn chorus was a whistling roar by now, the sound of a thousand males calling out love to a thousand silent females ready to choose and make the world new. It was nothing but heady cacophony unless you paid attention to the individual entries: a rode-breasted grosbeak with his sweet complicated little sonnet; a vireo with his repetitious bursts of eighth notes and triplets. And then came the wood thrush, with his tone poem of a birdsong. The wood thrush defined these woods for Deanna, providing background music for her thoughts and naming her place in the forest. The dawn chorus would subside in another hour, but the wood thrush would persist for a long time into the morning, then pick up again in early evening or even at midday if it was cloudy. Nannie had asked her once in a letter how she could live up here alone with all the quiet, and that was Deanna’s answer: when human conversation stopped, the world was anything but quiet. She lived with wood thrushes for company.

 


You can find Delia’s first post on ‘Prodigal Summer’ here.

Have you read ‘Prodigal Summer’ by Barbara Kingsolver?

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I discovered ‘The Home-Maker’ by Dorothy Canfield Fisher through the review of Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot. I loved the basic premise of the book and couldn’t resist getting it. I started reading it a few days back and finished it in a couple of sittings. Here is what I think.

 

 

‘The Home-Maker’ is about a family and the interesting consequences of what happens when traditional gender roles are reversed. Evangeline Knapp is the mother who is a perfectionist. She likes her house to be spotlessly clean, she likes her children to behave properly all the time, she expects her husband to work hard and move up the professional ladder and she keeps her real feelings to herself. She doesn’t have time to let her hair down. Evangeline has a daughter and two sons. Her children love her but they are not able to connect with her emotionally. Lester Knapp, Evangeline’s husband, works at a local department store. He is not ambitious and is regarded as a cog in the wheel, at work. He doesn’t care about career advancement or about making more money. He likes poetry and literature. He is able to connect with his children, but doesn’t have the time to do that, because of his busy work schedule. The department store that Lester works in, gets a new boss who is young. This young gentleman, Jerome Willing, wants to re-organize the store and make things more efficient. The first casualty of this is Lester who gets sacked. A depressed Lester returns home, gets caught in a fire and has an accident, which paralyzes him waist down. The environment at home changes. Lester recovers enough after a few months though he is still paralyzed, stays at home, suddenly has time to spend with his children and is able to contribute to their emotional growth, helps them in dreaming and discovering their interests and suddenly the Knapp family’s home is a fun place to live in. However the problem of how to make money and bring bread to the table remains. Evangeline goes and meets Mr.Willing at the department store one day. Mr.Willing sees promise in her and hires her and puts her in the Cloak-and-suits department. Evangeline works hard, discovers that she has unexplored talent, has a knack for the business and rises up the ladder quite fast. Soon she is not just a stock girl, but she becomes a sales girl and is making more money than her husband ever made. Before long, she is promoted as the head of her department. Evangeline loves her life and she is able to let her hair down. Her children are able to connect with her emotionally. It looks like Lester’s accident was not bad at all because it seems to have helped the Knapp family members realize their potential. Just when we are thinking that the Knapp family is going to be happy ever after, a grey cloud arrives at the horizon. Lester’s doctor says that Lester can be cured and might be able to walk again. Though this news should make everyone happy, it makes everyone worried. Evangeline worries that she will have to give up her career, because if her husband is back to normal, he will have to go to work, as that is the norm at that time, and someone has to be at home to take care of things there and that someone will be her. Lester worries that eventhough he would like to stay home even if he gets back to normal, it will be difficult to face the criticism of his neighbours and society if he does that, because an able man is expected to work and not be a homemaker and so he would have to get back to the work he hated. The children worry that if their father goes back to work, things will go back to as they were before and that will be the end of their home as a fun-place. Does Evangeline give up her promising career? Does Lester give up what he loves, because that is what society demands? What happens to the Knapp family? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

 

I liked ‘The Home-Maker’ very much. To me it looked like a book which was not written to entertain the reader with an interesting story or which had deep philosophical prose to make the reader think, but it was a book which was written to make a point and make the reader think by playing with extremes. It explores what happens when traditional gender roles are reversed and when a woman becomes the breadwinner of the family and a man becomes the homemaker. One of my friends who is a personal coach and who is one of the wisest persons I know once told me that if we are not sure what we like with respect to a particular aspect of life, we should explore extremes. That way we will be able to find the right balance of the two opposites which fits our lives. My friend mentioned this in the context of work-life balance. This book does the same with respect to gender roles at home. I am guessing that ‘The Home-Maker’ must have created quite a controversy when it first came out. The year it was published, 1924, was really a long time back, and the world was a different place then, when compared to now. The roles of men and women at home were defined by tradition then and were set in stone. Any kind of deviation from the norm was probably regarded with suspicion then. Looking at the book from that perspective, I think Dorothy Canfield Fisher must have been really brave to write it and publish it.

 

I thought it will be interesting to see how the book’s main theme applies to the world today. Karen Knox says this in the introduction to the book (written in 1999) – The Home-Maker is seventy-five years old, but the situation it examines is as current today as when the book was first published. There are, of course, obvious differences in small town American life then and now, mostly technological advances in housekeeping and in business, but the basics remain depressingly the same.” I found it quite depressing to read that. I think that things have changed in many positive aspects with respect to what women can do to realize their potential. But some things remain the same. For example, if the husband and the wife are in similar positions at work, the wife’s career typically takes the backseat. When the husband is transferred to a new country on work, the wife is expected to tag along with him, giving up her career, or she is expected to find a job in the new country. But if the wife is transferred to a new country on work, she is not sure whether she can take up that position, because the husband may not tag along with her. Managing the home is still regarded as the wife’s responsibility, though the husband might help out in cooking, washing dishes and cleaning the house. There are, of course, exceptions to all this, which is good news. On the other hand, if we look at things from the husband’s perspective, if he decides to become a fulltime home-maker, it is going to be tough for him. It might be difficult for him to find a wife, or if he is already married, his wife might stop respecting him or she might even leave him. The idea of the husband being the breadwinner of the family is imprinted so deeply in the human mind for millennia that it is not going to go away anytime soon. It might require humans to unlearn their conditioned thinking with respect to gender roles, not just intellectually (which we have successfully done already, I think), but in a deep, emotional, fundamental way. I think till then, the themes depicted by ‘The Home-Maker’ will continue to be relevant to us.

 

I read the Persephone edition of ‘The Home-Maker’. This was my first Persephone and I loved it – I loved the cover, the Galway-fabric-style endpapers, the thick pages, the wide spacing between lines, the easy-on-the-eye font, the wonderful introduction by Karen Knox. My only complaint was that Persephone editions are expensive – each book costs 10 pounds. But if one wants fine French wine or delicious Belgian chocolate – or Persephone editions – one shouldn’t complain about the price J

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

Rest

 

The bed, the floor, the bureau, everything looked different to you in the times when Mother forgot about you for a minute. It occurred to Stephen that maybe it was a rest to them, too, to have Mother forget about them and stop dusting and polishing and pushing them around. They looked sort of peaceful, the way he felt. He nodded his head to the bed and looked with sympathy at the bureau.

 

Beautiful words and children

 

‘He that is down need fear no fall,

He that is low, no pride,’

 

Said Lester Knapp aloud to himself. It was a great pleasure to him to be able to say the strong short Saxon words aloud. For years he had been shutting into the cage of silence all the winged beautiful words which came flying into his mind! And beautiful words which you do not pronounce aloud are like children always forced to ‘be quiet’ and ‘sit still’. They droop and languish.

 

Teaching and loving literature

 

“What makes you think colleges want teachers who love literature? They want somebody who can make young people sit still and listen whether they feel like it or not. They want somebody who can “keep order” in a class room and drill students on dates so they can pass examinations. I couldn’t do that! And I’d loathe forcing literature down the throats of boys and girls who didn’t want it as I’d loathe selling things to people who didn’t need them. I’d be just a dead loss at it the way I always am.”

 

The morning poets

 

Not infrequently his first early-morning look at the world told him with which great spirit he was to live that day. A clear, breezy, bird-twittering dawn after rain meant Christina Rossetti’s child-poems. A soft grey downpour of warm rain, varnishing the grass to brilliance and beating down on the earth with a roll of muted drum-notes, always brought Hardy to his mind. Golden sun spilled in floods over the new green of the quivering young leaves meant Shelley. And Browning was for days when the sun rose rich and many-coloured out of confused masses of turbid clouds.

 

A Mathematician painting a picture

 

Eva had no bread to give them – he saw that in this Day-of-Judgement hour, and no longer pretended that he did not. Eva had passionate love and devotion to give them, but neither patience nor understanding. There was no sacrifice in the world which she would not joyfully make for her children except to live with them. They had tried that for fourteen dreadful years and knew what it brought them. That complacent unquestioned generalization, ‘The mother is the natural home-maker’; what a juggernaut it had been in their case! How poor Eva, drugged by the cries of its devotees, had cast herself down under its grinding wheels – and had dragged the children in under with her. It wasn’t because Eva had not tried her best. She had nearly killed herself trying. But she had been like a gifted mathematician set to paint a picture.

 

Have you read ‘The Home-Maker’? What do you think about it?

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