With all this fuss about Michael Gove apparently banning To Kill A Mockingbird I thought that I had really better read it. And I can certainly see why people fight for it. It’s annoying when things really are as good as people say but I think this is one of those cases. It is a book that evokes emotions, that makes you look again at your own actions and prejudices.
I think we all have a book like that, one that is powerful and that makes you think. They are, of course, the ones most likely to be banned (and yes, I do know that Gove has denied that was ever the intention). But for something, anything, to create emotion it must have a victim. Think of jokes that you know; are any of them without one? The Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman. All are about stereotypes. Dumb blonde jokes, ditto. Think of any half funny joke and it will have its victims and stereotypes.
Books are the same. There will be someone having a bad time in them. In films there is a bad guy (usually English!) due to get his comeuppance but until he does will be making someone else suffer, whether physically or emotionally, and be his victim. Because of this people will take offence and in some cases want to ban it (totally different situation to the Gove thing but it set me off thinking.) A really good book to demonstrate this is The Day They Came To Arrest The Book. I won’t spoil it by saying how it ends but it is one I would recommend to everyone because it says a lot about how the world is viewed.
I am somewhat late to the party but a book that truly did evoke emotions was A Thousand Splendid Suns. Based in Afghanistan (which has a few name changes) the story takes place over about forty years. It manages to not have this drag by being somewhat episodic, although (mainly) in date order. Despite this it flows beautifully, each leads on from the last in such a way as to be completely natural. You are led on, ever deeper, into the lives involved.
I learnt a lot from what should have been a deeply depressing book. Like I imagine many, I had assumed that Afghanistan had been consumed by the Taliban long ago, that the people there had not known freedom within living memory. In fact it is quite the opposite and the oppression is very new and all for the harder for it. How do you go from laughing in university to not being allowed out without a man and covered head to toe in a burqa, with only a mesh to see out of? Music banned, tv banned, books banned. Although life had become restricted and bomb dodging required due to civil war these changes literally came overnight. I cannot imagine how I would cope.
One of the themes of the book is lack of knowledge. For me this came through most strongly in Laila’s mother who believed with all her heart that the next leader who came in would be the one who would save them all. She did not know them, could not see in their hearts or know the choices they would face, and yet she still believed, only to be disappointed. Hope can be very cruel.
And yet hope is what I take away with me. As I said before this should have been depressing. Parts, large parts, were certainly cheerless. This is in no way light reading. But even when the characters have no hope you cannot help but carry it for them, to prey that somehow they will get through. I strongly suggest you read the book to find out if they did.