Monday, November 24, 2014

Memoirs: My family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

When naturalist Gerald Durrell was ten years old, his family left England to live on the Greek island of Corfu for five years. My Family and Other Animals is a rollicking account of those years as told from the point of view of young Gerald. Durrell prefaces his memoir by telling us that 'it was originally intended to be a mildly nostalgic account of the natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages.'

The book is divided into three parts, each taking place in one of the different homes the Durrells inhabited during their stay on Corfu: 'the strawberry-pink villa'. 'the daffodil-yellow villa' and a 'snow-white villa'. It contains a wonderful cast of characters, starting with Gerald's genial widowed mother and older siblings Margo, Leslie and Larry (acclaimed novelist Lawrence Durrell). Other friends and local identities include the irrepressible Spiro, Dr. Theodore Stephanides (a mentor to the budding young zoologist), and Gerald's eccentric English tutor called George.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Modern fiction: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison's 1987 novel Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. It is one of the most powerfully evocative novels about slavery and its unthinkable legacy ever written. It is based on a true story of a black slave woman, Margaret Garner, who escaped from a Kentucky plantation with her husband Robert and sought refuge in Ohio. Recaptured, she killed her baby to save it from the slavery that she had escaped.

Toni Morrison
In the novel, Sethe is a passionately devoted mother and as an act of supreme love and sacrifice she tries to kill her children to prevent them becoming slaves. She succeeds only in killing her two-year-old daughter and since she cannot afford to write 'Dearly Beloved' on the gravestone, the child is known as Beloved. Sethe now lives with her teenage daughter Denver and the house is haunted and rocked by the rage of the dead baby. The hauntings are only alleviated by the occasional appearance of Paul D, a man so ravaged by his slave past that he keeps his feelings in a tobacco tin. One day a teenage girl turns up. Is she Beloved incarnate? She knows the song that only Sethe and Denver share. Sethe is obsessed with assuaging her guilt and the opportunity to love Beloved.
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