Title: New Boy: Othello Retold
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Imprint: Hogarth Shakespeare
Genre: Literary Fiction
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!