Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mister Pip

Mister Pip made the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize and won of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book.
Matilda, the young black girl narrating the story says, “the… book ... supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed. It gave me a friend in Pip. It taught me you can slip into the skin of another just as easily as your own, even when that skin is white and belongs to a boy alive in Dickens’ England. Now, if that isn’t an act of magic I don’t know what is.”
I find it interesting that the author is a white man telling the story of a black girl hearing the story of a white boy told by a middle-aged man more than a century ago (and read by me, a white woman “of a certain age” on the other side of the planet).
This book is full of the magic of stories and shows just how important stories are in enriching our lives.Mr. Watts takes on the role of teacher, although he amiably admits he has no experience. The curriculum is formed through the telling of stories, “We had no books. We had our minds and we had our memories, and according to Mr. Watts, that’s all we needed.” Watts, the only white person on the island, reads from a copy of the book Great Expectations and invites parents and grandparents into the class to tell stories and share their knowledge. Through Dicken’s book the listeners are introduced to Old England, alien concepts and a culture and climate they have never seen. The stories of the guest speakers, on the other hand, bring the students to see different points of view about the world around them.
The island is feeling the affects of countries at war, and “redskin soldiers” come and burn the islander’s homes along with their possessions. The actual hard copy of the book Great Expectations seems to exist no more. Under Watt’s guidance, the students set about retelling the story by small, remembered fragments and piecing it together. Later, when another warring faction of “rambos” come, all listen rapt as Watts tells his life story – which curiously parallels that of Pip.At one point Watts says, “Great Expectations… gave me permission to change my life.”
The essence of story is alive on so many levels it is almost dazzling.

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