Monday, 30 September 2013

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Date of Reading: 09/12/2007
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translation: Louise & Aylmer Maud
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Place: Great Britain
Year: 1999

           The debate around this all time favorite of  Tolstoy's is been going for years among my friends and teachers. Nature or Culture? Should we give vent to our natural feelings and live accordingly or is it better to live by the code which guarantee a problem free life? Author has obviously chosen the latter, making this the story of a fallen woman, a warning to those who dares to be adventurous.
           Anna is the beautiful wife of Alexis Alexandrovich Karenin, a high profile government official in Petersburg. As her husband is an inexpert lover, Anna's whole life revolves around her eight years old son Serezha. Her brother Oblonsky lives at Moscow with his wife Dolly and five children; his relationship with other women often spurts occasional quarrels between the couple and Anna then works as the mediator.
On such a journey to pacify Dolly, Anna meets Count Alexis Kirilich Vronsky who fall in love with this beauty instantly. Her marriage status won't pull him back and he follows her back to Petersburg. After several encounters Anna is yielded and she gets pregnant. All the while Karenin keeps a blind eye to the situation on fearing the damage that might fall to his reputation.
           Anna gives birth to baby Anna and on watching her alarming state after giving birth Karenin forgives the past and offers the old life back. This is unbearable for Anna and she decides to live with Vronsky. Karenin gets broken hearted at this and Countess Lydia takes advantage of this situation to make him her puppet.
           The fear of her social status forbids Anna to go for a divorce and it takes Vronsky several months to persuade her. But Karenin refuses to comply with this on Countess Lydia's influence. Vronsky's family considers him trapped in this and Anna feels that he is coming under their influence and is looking for another girl. In a desperate moment she jumps in front of the running train and ends her life. A desolated Vronsky joins army and Karenin looks after the baby Anna.
Leo Tolstoy
           Constantine Dmitrich Levin's story goes parallel to this and offers a high contrast to Anna's life. He is rejected by Kitty, Dolly's younger sister, as she preferred Vronsky. But on Anna's liaison with him, Kitty finds that her happiness lies with Levin. Novel ends when she gives birth to their first baby. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

Date of Reading: 27/08/2013
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Publisher: Amy Einlarn Books
Place: New York
Year: 2009
        Once I had this nagging fear: what if all the classics run out, and I don't like these post-modern books? Well, 'The Help' has helped to put a rest to that fear and I am glad that the movie experience didn't ruin even the teeniest bit of its charm. Mammy's side of the 'Gone with the Wind', that is what Skeeter describes her work, which is true to the entire novel too. The entire female dominated perspective puts forth the nostalgic feeling of a 21st century Jane Austen novel (oh, not in the case of romance) with its unraveling of  some complex minds.
           Friendship, mother-daughter love, career and boyfriend troubles and most of all racism -- Stockett has put forth a string of themes. And when it comes to the leading role, I am still confused. Skeeter or Aibileen? It could be the movie's influence, I was waiting for all the Skeeter chapters (and Minny of course).
"There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends", says Dumbledore in Harry Potter series. Its that courage that puts Skeeter along with Aibileen and Minnie. The sudden realization that your friends are no longer following the right path, the moment when the blindness is lifted of the eyes, is hard for a 22 year old. The fact that you don't have any friends left may not always be your fault. When you stand up for what you think is just and right, you may not get much company behind. Its always easy to lead life according to other's wishes (you just have to put your self respect behind), not so if you want to live it in your way.
           The novel is moored around the stories of three women: Miss Skeeter, the 22-year old Ole Miss graduate, Aibileen the wise black maid who has lost her own son and is now bringing up her 17the white child and, Minny the sass mouthing black maid who by the way is also the best cook in the entire Mississippi. Year is 1962; protests are going on under the leadership of Martin Luther King.

         Skeeter has just come back from college and finds that her childhood friends Hilly (who rules the entire Jackson) and Elizabeth married and settled with children. Her own long stature shoos the boys away and her mother is constantly worried of her ringless fingers. With the intention of being a writer, she takes a job in Jackson Journal. She is to maintain the housekeeping column for which he seeks the help of Aibileen, Elizabeth's help.
         Hilly's insistence on separate toilets for the coloured help kindles an old spark, and with the encouragement of Elaine Stein, the editor of Harper & Row, she decides to make a book of interviews of black help in Jackson. Aibileen agrees reluctantly but they need a dozen more.
         Minny is Aibi's best friend and her sass mouthing and I-don't-care nature puts her into conflict with Hilly and nobody is ready to take her to a household. Finally she is taken by Celia Foote, the pretty new wife of rich Johnny who is not accepted into the lady's circle due to her low birth. Her new changed circumstances where she is considered as an equal in every way, makes her too enter into the book project. But the others still lack courage.
         When Hilly's maid Yule May is arrested for stealing a ring to pay her sons' tuition fees, other maids are aroused to narrate her love and hate stories in White households -- how it is to raise a white child when your own child is looked after by others. Skeeter is alienated from her Hilly due to her stance against the separate toilets and the entire Jackson puts their back on her. On hearing about the secret book project her boyfriend backs away from the intended proposal but she continues the lonely path.

           Harper & Row publishes the book as The Help with limited copies and without revealing the writer's identity. And names of the maids and also that of the town is also changed. Suspicions grow around but Minny's episode with Hilly saves the impending disaster. As a revenge on the toilet issue and spreading lies on her Minny has mixed her shit with chocolate pie which Hilly eats with relish. Hilly, ever afraid of this secret to be in the open, declares that the book is not on Jackson.
Kathryn Stockett
The Help gets a reprint and Skeeter is off to New York for her new job with Harper. Minny leaves her drunken, beating husband at last; Aibileen loses her job because of the book but she feels free and decides to be a writer.

--- The 2011 film adaptation of Tate Taylor got four Academy Award Nominations and Spencer won the Best Supporting Actress award for playing the role of Minny.
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