Monthly Archives: September 2015

Katniss Everdeen – the Girl on Fire

We often enjoy books we can identify with – books that make us go ‘Ah I know a person like that’ or ‘Oh this could happen to me’.

But then there are also another kind of books – books where the author crafts a whole different world. And she transports you right there till you feel completely part of that world and are living with the characters. Classic examples would be George Orwell’s 1984 or the more recent Harry Potter series.

Today’s protagonist comes from one such world – Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The book published relatively recently (in 2008) is a first of a Trilogy, and as is often the case with trilogies, is the most gripping.

The Hunger Games: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion

Katniss in warrior mode with her bow and arrows.

Collins creates a dystopian nation, Panem with 12 districts governed by the city called Capitol. Long ago the districts had rebelled against the Capitol and were defeated. To remind them of the Capitol’s supremacy, each year a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 is chosen from each district. Called Tributes, they have to compete in the Hunger Games. Each one has to try to kill the others or get killed trying till there is a single survivor. The event is televised and watched like a reality show.

The story is told in first person by Katniss, from District 12. When her sister’s name is picked for the Games, she volunteers to go in her stead.

Katniss stands out as the perfect protagonist. She’s strong and brave and proud. She is a fighter against all odds. At 11 years she takes on the job of the breadwinner for her family of three, when her father dies and her mum goes into depression.

Katniss the heartless provider

All of Katniss’ actions are guided by a strong sense of responsibility towards her family. On the surface she seems practical and emotionless to the point of being callous. She hunts for her family without emotion or compassion. She tries to drown their cat who she looks on as just ‘another mouth to feed’. She doesn’t want to have children because she thinks of them simply as more mouths to feed.
When she’s leaving for the games she shows little emotion. All she talks about are practical things that will equip her mum and sister for their day-to-day survival in her absence.

… and yet love is what guides her

She volunteers for her sister – a pure act of love. It is love that makes her stay with her mother and sister rather than running away. It is love that prompts her to not bring children into a world of starvation and it is love that makes her try to drown the cat rather than see her starving to death.
“if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker”, she says.

When faced with kindness she reacts with anger and suspicion yet she strikes up a friendship with some of the tributes. She tries to block them as she is aware that she might have to kill them. Yet she bonds with them.

I like that her better feelings always win in the end. The final act of rebellion against the powers of the Capitol, is the perfect ending to the book. If I have piqued your interest enough – go read it, if you haven’t already, and tell me what you thought of Katniss Everdeen.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up this wonderful meme.

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J is for Justine O Neill

Sometimes a character isn’t a protagonist, doesn’t even make an appearance till half the book is through yet comes like a breath of fresh air and charms her way right into your heart. Justine O Neill from the Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough is just that.

thornbirds

The book is a captivating saga spanning three generations of the Cleary-O Neill family. It  reminds me a little of Gone with the Wind. Both have similar sprawling farm settings, strong women characters and both tell tales of ill-fated unfulfilled love.

Set in an Australian homestead, Drogheda, Thornbirds is the story of Meggie (Justine’s mother). Meggie is in love with  priest Ralph de Bricassart. He is attracted to her too but chooses to ignore it and moves to Rome to take up a higher responsibility in the Catholic Church. Meggie goes on to marry a farm stud Luke O Neill only because he looks a little like Ralph. Luke turns out to be a flint-hearted workaholic and a miser who has married her only for her money. In a desperate bid to get him to settle down Meggie tricks him and conceives a child. She gives birth to Justine – a cranky feisty red-headed girl.

Within a few minutes of her birth, with the astuteness of a mother, Meggie remarks :
“I don’t think Justine will ever be mine, or Luke’s, or anyone’s. I think she’s always going to belong to herself.”

Luke never learns to love Justine or Meggie. What I found sadder still was that despite all the planning and scheming that Meggie did to get Justine, she  too becomes curiously detached from her. One would expect Justine to turn out a rather sad lost little girl. Not so at all. Justine has no patience for self-pity. She turns out spunky and smart and independent.

When she takes a decision she’s unstoppable. She decides she wants to be an actress and when Meggie delicately points out that perhaps she isn’t good-looking enough to be one – she says:
“Not a film star; an actress! I don’t want to wiggle my hips and stick out my breasts and pout my wet lips! I want to act.”

She’s definitely not looking for anyone’s approval.

Yet she’s neither self centered nor emotionless. She loves her younger brother Dane with a passion that borders on vehemence. She also reserves a special soft spot for her grandmother Fee and loves Meggie too in her own way.

Fee points out that her reluctance to share her emotions stems from a wariness of being laughed at. That made her very real for me. Aren’t a lot of us like that?

Dane is the one person she loves most and they share a close warm relationship. Yet how different they are! He becomes a priest and she an actress. He is celibate while she doesn’t hesitate to experiment. He is her conscience and she never feels the need to hide anything from him.

Finally, when she thinks Meggie needs her she is ready to give up her life in the city, her work which she’s passionate about and the man she loves to come and stay with her mother. A loveable monster Meggie calls her – that’s what she is.

Do pick up this book if you haven’t read it. In fact try others by Colleen McCullough too. At least one more of her books will show up here.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up this wonderful meme.

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Iago: As bad as it gets

This week’s letter, I, took me a bit by surprise in that it proved to be such a toughie. One is prepared to sweat it out with the Qs and the Xs but I?? Yet no character impressive enough came to mind. Then who should come to my rescue but a distinguished old friend – the Bard himself. This week I pick Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello.

Iago is one of the most powerful evil characters of all time. He dominates the play more than Othello himself and gets more stage-space too. Some would even argue he is the protagonist of the play. If that were true, a more vicious, crafty, cruel protagonist you will not find.

The Story

If you haven’t read this Shakespearean Tragedy here’s how it goes. Othello and Desdemona elope. Iago is miffed because Othello has promoted another nobleman Cassius to a position that Iago wanted. Along with Roderigo a man who had fancied Desdemona, Iago meets her father to incite him against Othello. However, Othello convinces the Duke that Desdemona had married him out of her own will and since Desdemona confirms this the Duke lets Othello go.

Shortly after, Othello is sent to Cyprus to lead a war against the Turks. Desdemona follows him along with Iago (who Othello considers a trusted deputy) and his wife Emilia. In Cyprus Iago begins to poison Othello’s mind against Cassius, saying he is having and affair with Desdemona.

He ‘arranges’ a brawl that results in Cassius being demoted by Othello. Cassius asks Desdemona to plead his case. When she does Othello’s suspicions grow stronger. Then using Desdemona’s handkerchief (which Iago asks his wife to get) he manages to convince Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. He also stages a conversation with Cassius that further strengthens Othello’s suspicion. Finally in a fit of jealousy Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow. Emilia figures out that Iago is the one orchestrating all the events and raises an alarm at which he stabs her. On learning the truth Othello kills himself.

Isn’t that very very dramatic? But then you cannot expect any less from the master dramatist. Did you notice how Iago drives the plot? Here are the top five reasons he’s the ‘baddest’ of the bad.

Iago is unapologetically evil

Till the end of the play it never does become clear what his exact grudge against Othello is. He has no sorry background, no skeletons in his closet that would justify his cruelty or his hatred. He just is Evil. If you’ve read the play you couldn’t have missed the ‘asides’. He loves to brag as he plots and plans. He makes his moves and then stands by and watches the characters fall into his trap, which they do each time, seamlessly. Oh he enjoys being baaad.

He is skilled in the art of deception

Othello never once doubts his intentions and considers him his trusted deputy even while Iago is planning his downfall. He warns Othello of Jealousy while inciting him to be just that –

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on”

Not just Othello, Roderigo and Cassius too are taken in by his smooth talk.

Iago is a master manipulator

Oh yes he’s a crafty one. Each move the characters make, each decision they take is orchestrated by him. Sample this: He arranges a brawl with Cassio, makes sure Othello sees him and fires him. Iago gives Cassio the idea of taking  Desdemona’s help in getting his job back. He then plants suspicion in Othello’s mind regarding the two, warning him to look out for signs like Desdemona urging him to reinstate Cassio. She does just that and the result is exactly what Iago has planned. Oooofff! Impressive or what!

He systematically feeds his hatred for Othello

His dislike for Othello starts with Cassius being promoted to a position he desires. He then goes on to find reasons to dislike Othello. He hears a rumour that Othello has seduced his wife. He doesn’t fully believe it yet chooses to do so.

othello-revenge-3-728

He is driven by all possible evil reasons

Most people have one single driving force that propels them towards evil. Not so Iago. He is driven by power, position, money, jealousy. Everything that’s evil prompts him on.

Who is your favourite villain? Who is the bad man you love to hate most?

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday where we’re doing posts on the letter ‘I’. Hop across for some Interesting posts.

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The Time Traveler

He appears out of the blue, empty-handed and stark naked, traversing geographical and time barriers. Henry DeTamble, from The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, is well…. a time traveller.

It took me a while to wrap my head around the whole concept what with Henrys of all ages appearing and disappearing and older Henry’s chatting and advising younger ones. Once I’d done that, this turned out to be the sweetest, most poignant love story I’d ever read.

Henry begins to time travel when he is merely 5 (mercifully one of his older versions is around to help him through his first experience). He never knows where his travels will take him  or what he will do once he’s there. Each time he starts over – stealing clothes, foraging for food (time travel makes him ravenous) and hiding out while he waits to go back, which he does as suddenly as he comes.

Over time he works out that his episodes happens mostly in moments of stress and that he visits places related to his life. He also meets people from his life, their older and younger versions as well as his own.

Henry with a younger version of his future wife Clare

Henry with a younger version of his future wife Clare

He never reveals future events to others and rarely meddles in them (other than minor ones like winning lottery tickets), preferring to go along with God’s plan even though he doesn’t believe in Him.

“I don’t usually tell myself stuff ahead of time unless it’s huge, life-threatening, you know? I’m trying to live like a normal person. I don’t even like having myself around, so I try not to drop in on myself unless there’s no choice.”

An attempt, perhaps, at retaining his own version of ‘normalcy’.

Henry’s character brings home the ephemeral nature of life, the inevitability of death and the draw of love that proves even more powerful than death. He is never completely there since he can be gone any time, yet he’s never completely gone since he can come back any time.

At the beginning of the book I wondered how he ever survived. What if his time travel landed him in the middle of a busy road? Or in the middle of a war? Or what if he is hurt/killed by his own loved ones who don’t know him yet? After all a strange man without clothes isn’t exactly a comforting sight.

But he does.

And then I wondered how he ever died. He knew the future, right? So couldn’t he subvert death? As it turns out he couldn’t. What’s somewhat comforting is that before he dies, by travelling into the future, he is able to visit his wife, Clare and  daughter Alba, after he is dead. Yeah I know it’s a little confusing.

Henry has been accused of many things by critics – they call him the runaway husband. He is in a pretty ideal situation, it would seem, if stress situations make him disappear. However that’s kind of tough on his wife. Imagine never being able to argue with your husband lest he disappear.

Yet I loved Henry for his warmth and his resilience and most of all for his love for Clare. He’s a wonderful husband when he’s there. He knows her since she was 6 (he bumps into her during one of his time travels when he is much older at 28 years) and he looks out for her in his own way.

time travelers wife

He has as a wonderful philosophy of life quite like our Hindu philosophy – that even though our future is preordained, not knowing it keeps us going. He sorts the eternal debate of free-will versus destiny in that he believes it’s the feeling of ‘being in control’ of our lives is what keeps us living, even though we might not have any real control. I find myself in complete agreement with him.

If you haven’t read this book – it’s a must must read specially if you love a sweet romance, funny in bits with a dash of fantasy.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday where we’re doing posts on the letter ‘H’.

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