Tag Archives: jealousy

New Boy: Othello Retold by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier Title: New Boy: Othello Retold
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Imprint: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-1781090329
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I was skeptical about reading this one, only because Othello and Macbeth are my favourite Shakespeare plays and in my head, no one can adapt them. I am sure it has been done several times, but they still don’t hold a candle to the original. Hence, the skepticism.

At the same time, while I thought the book started off promisingly, something didn’t quite fit in. There was this constant nagging thought at the back of my head which I couldn’t place. Till I did and which I will speak about a little later.

“New Boy” is a classic circadian novel – a novel that takes place through a day. Maybe that is the reason it is short and couldn’t have been any longer than this. Also, it is the perfect book to read in today’s times – it is sad I say this, because it is about race and alienation in the 70s and we are in 2018. Something should have changed. We think some things have, but they haven’t. Racial discrimination is as real as it was then and we have only see it grow in the last couple of years.

Anyway, back to the book. “New Boy” is Othello retold. The setting: A private junior high-school and as the title suggests, a new boy Osei – straight from Ghana – a diplomat’s son nonetheless (so black and privileged) enters a school and a white girl, Dee (Desdemona) falls for him and that’s when the school bully Ian (Iago, of course) has to do something to tear them apart. It is the 70s and racial discrimination is at its height.

Chevalier gets references and slurs bang on – so real that I had to keep the book down a couple of times before picking it up again and also because many a times, the conversations didn’t seem to be had between eleven-year olds till I stopped thinking of it this way and started enjoying the story.

The book takes place in a day – at the beginning of a school day and finishes at the end. We all know how this one is going to play out. I couldn’t read further for the longest time, because I didn’t want the tragedy to strike. One would even think that the tragedy cannot be as gruesome as it has been depicted in other adaptations, for instance, Omkara but Chevalier packs a punch and how! Her interpretation of Iago is just as crafty (even more and scarier because it is projected on to a child) and then there is her Othello, who is just as gullible and prone to first-day of school politics.

“New Boy” was a read that I warmed to. I didn’t like it initially. I waited for it to grow on me and it did. It is the kind of book that cannot be rushed with either. You have to take it all in in one big gulp and wait for it to be digested before reading some more of it. Pick it up!

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The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson Title: The Gap of Time
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Hogarth Shakespeare
ISBN: 978-0804141352
Genre: Literary Fiction, Adaptation,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books or plays that you cannot imagine being retold and when they are, you cannot imagine anyone else retelling them but the author who gave it a new voice. I strongly go by this and more so after I finished reading “The Gap of Time” by Jeanette Winterson, a retelling of “The Winter’s Tale” by the Bard – the first in the project commissioned by Hogarth books under a new imprint “Hogarth Shakespeare” where all of Shakespeare’s plays will be retold by various authors.

“The Winter’s Tale” is one of Shakespeare’s last plays – exploring the theme of forgiveness more than jealousy over time. The plot is similar to “Othello”, but the story and the way it moves is very different and so is the conclusion. There is redemption. You actually need not read “The Winter’s Tale” to read “The Gap of Time” but do have some plot summary in your head before you embark on Winterson’s adaptation.

King Leontes of Sicily believes his wife Hermione is having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia and that the child she is carrying is his. So he orders Polixenes to be murdered, the bastard girl child to be exposed to die and Hermione to be sent to prison, where it is believed that she also dies. The bastard girl child survives. Shakespeare has a change of heart so to say and must wait till the child Perdita – the lost one appears in Act II and everything then falls into place, including the broad themes of forgiveness, time and everything that is lost must be found.

Jeanette Winterson takes this plot and makes it her own. The setting is contemporary. The jealousies are the same. Polixenes is Xeno – a bisexual man who is in love with his best friend Leo and his wife MiMi. Leo suspects MiMi of having an affair with Xeno. Perdita is born. Leo orders his gardener to take her to Xeno. Things don’t go as planned. Perdita is adopted by a grieving man Shep and his son Clo. The plot unravels on Shep’s seventieth birthday and nothing is the same ever for the characters caught in the trap of time. They have to live and see what happens next and a lot does, which I will not give away in this review.

Winterson does a fantastic job of bringing “The Winter’s Tale” alive in 2008 – when the financial crisis was hitting the world and bringing it down. The theme of redemption is so strong running throughout that Winterson is the only one I know of who can breeze through it, without it becoming boring or monotonous at any point. There were lines I could not stop underlining or marking. The writing as usual leaves you speechless. It actually also surpasses time itself – just as her earlier works, where time is fluid, flexible and bends at will. “The Gap of Time” is such a worthy successor to “The Winter’s Tale”. You simply have to read it.

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It Rained All Night by Buddhadeva Bose

I wonder when will people understand the importance of literature and the freedom of authors to express what they feel like and do not go around banning books just because they are written with verve and hold a mirror to how we live.

It Rained All Night by Buddhadeva Bose is one such book that was banned in 1970, the original title being Raat Bhor Brishti. The police at that time did not even spare the manuscript and it was burnt to ashes. Later though the high court overruled the banned and set the book free.

I did not even realise the book was banned till I researched some on it. I am certain that it was banned on the ground of vulgarity and some such thing, however my question remains: So why can’t a wife look outside her marriage for physical fulfillment, if her husband fails to meet them? Just alone for this I guess the book would have been banned today as well, considering the dark ages we now live in.

The plot of the book is simple: Maloti, an attractive Middle-Class Bengali girl, marries the pendantic college lecturer, Noyonangshu – and too for love, only to discover him to be, “insecure, sexually timid” and confused.

Noyonangshu on the other hand is quite liberal with his ideas with reference to the nuclear family concept and wants his wife to enjoy the very best. He is aware of her trysts with his friend Jayanto who seems to match her desire and intensity.

The entire book juggles between the socio-political and the sexual awakening of its characters in a time when Calcutta and Bengal were shaping it self for greater things. I enjoyed reading the book and loved what the author had to say for instance where marriage is concerned and how it is not needed in an evolved society like ours (really?).

Marriage! What a complex, difficult, necessary and fantastically durable institution it is – yet so fragile. Two human beings will spend their entire lives together. Not five or 15 years, but their entire lives – what more atrocious a tyranny, what more inhuman an ideal could there be

Buddhadeva Bose’s writing is crisp and to the point.  It is racy and not cluttered at all. In fact the reader is often looking forward to what is in store next. The style though is disjointed and has a series of monologues of the internal storms of each character and what they go through as situations come along.

It captures the conflict of values in a beautiful and unsentimentilizing manner. It does not through sentiments in your face and yet emotion is at the core of the book. At this point, I would like to say that the translation is superb by Clinton B. Seely. It does not take away the essence of the book like most translated works. All in all this book is unforgettable. In almost every way.

Book: ‘It Rained All Night’ by Buddhadeva Bose; Translator: Clinton B. Seely; Publisher: Penguin Books-India; Price: Rs 150