Friday 23 February 2018

New Boy

New Boy
New Boy
By Tracy Chevalier

The Shakespearian tragedy of Othello is reimagined in Tracy Chevalier’s mesmerizing book, New Boy.

When Osei arrives at his new school in Washington D.C. in the 1970s, he is the only black boy on the playground.  This is not a new experience for him.  Osei’s father is a diplomat from Ghana and Osei has had to endure being the new boy in London, Rome, New York and now D.C.

As a black boy in an all-white school, Osei usually keeps himself emotionally distant from the other students while understanding the necessity of showing his prowess in sport and his lack of fear in social situations.  He does not expect to meet a girl like Dee – the beautiful good girl, who takes an immediate liking to him.

But a relationship between a black boy and the teacher’s pet is not welcome.  When the teachers discover Dee and Osei touching each other on the arms, an intimate gesture, they quickly intervene.  Osei is deemed to be coercing Dee in some way, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Many teachers and students find the attraction between the white girl and black boy repulsive.  Osei knows the relationship will not be accepted.  When Dee displays her physical attraction to Osei, the other children become “witnesses to a line [Osei] had never intended to cross.” (p. 75)

Enter Ian, a boy full of sinister intent.   He wants power over the other children and decides that he will shift the situation for his own benefit by creating chaos between Dee and Osei, and the other students.

Ian manipulates the children on the playground, convincing Osei that Dee is two-timing him with Casper, the golden boy.  Although the rest of the students fear him, none are willing to stand up to Ian, and he bullies with impunity.  His ability to cause fist fights on the playground and make friends despise each other is uncanny.  He sets in motion a series of events that lead to a violent outburst from Osei, and a tragic ending.

All of New Boy takes place in one day in a schoolyard.  Although we know the outcome of Othello, Chevalier’s novel is a book you won’t be able to put down.  Chevalier paints a vivid picture of the racial divide between white and black in America, while remaining true to Shakespeare’s observations about human folly and its often tragic outcomes.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Exit West

Exit West
Exit West

 by Moshin Hamid

In the futuristic, magical novel Exit West by Moshin Hamid, Saeed and Nadia meet in an evening class in an unidentified country that is under siege and about to explode into war.  Saeed is contemplative and reserved while Nadia is fiercely independent and confident.  As their friendship develops, the fighting becomes more violent and begins to inhabit their neighbourhoods.  They both anguish over the future of their country and their own fate.  Will they survive?  What will be left for them if they do?

Hearing of doors that will take them to other, safer places, Saeed and Nadia make the decision to leave and find a nonviolent home. This step through the door leads them to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Mykonos, where they struggle to belong, to survive, and to get news of the country they have left behind.  As they adjust to their new location, they are held together by the effort it takes to find housing, work, and food.

As they move through doors to other countries the reader moves with them and learns that the refugees are everywhere worldwide. These doors allow the world’s citizens to move from one refugee camp/city/country to another – but they come with a price. For Saeed and Nadia, the price is a loss of the closeness they once had to each other, as through them we live the refugee experience, reading how each of them learns to cope in each new situation, each of them seeking something to belong to, and something to tie them to their past. 

This novel takes place in the future-- or does it? Hamid’s poetic narrative gives the reader an insight into the refugee experience, and provides food for thought on current approaches to refugees.

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