The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Book Review

secretIt is now one of my most favorite books, along with A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Frank McCourt’s trilogy ( Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man) , and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  ( I have just realized that most of the books above have something to do with children. Eureka!  ^_^ )

Its major theme about gardening excited me so much that I  slept  through  it  for one night  ;horticultural skills run in my blood . I love planting and gardening.

When I was in my   kindergarten, I did build my own little  garden behind our nipa hut in our province. I planted different invasive and flowering plants . So,   my neighbors were all amazed   at me because I was still too young to build one. However, I can no longer build a garden since my family and I live here in Manila. I did one when I was  in elementary but failed because the soil here  is not as arable as in our province. Besides, I don’t have time to do so.

If  gardening  were such a highly paid job, I would surely grab it and devote my life to it and at the same time read a book surrounded by the plants and flowers. Presto, it would be  beautiful and enchanting ambiance.

Like in the story how Frances Hodgson Burnett describes the ambiance, I am familiar with the smell of leaves after pouring down in torrents,  of the river  which  water smells  brackish wafting up in the air,  with the warm welcome of the sunshine in the breaking dawn, the marvelous blossoms of flowers in a garden, the  canopies of the huge trees in a forest. Also, I experienced to climb   the trees and trying to reach   the end parts of their  boughs laden with  clusters of enchanting fruits. But the more thrilling one  was  that I tried to bother the nests of birds laid  up  on  the trees. I was a naughty and pesky boy too. ^^  I miss my provincial life!

It may   not be  beautifully-written but if you read it in hindsight, you will realize that  it  is really  meaningful, intended to inculcate good virtues in readers.

  1. Hope

In the story, Mary Lennox   hopes that the garden has the big potential to revive its spirit. With her  great effort , she will  plant some  sorts of flowers again with the help of of her newly-met friend  , Dickon, whom she is very fond of. Also,   with the great impact of the Secret Garden upon Mary, she will help her mysterious cousin, Colin Craven , to be positive in life. He was born bed-ridden in the assumption that he is an invalid.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

2. Love and Loyalty

This virtue is  illustrated by Ben Weatherstaff, the  gruff elderly gardener who introduces Mary to the robin redbreast. He clandestinely tended the garden during the ten years in which it was locked, out of love and loyalty for the Mistress Craven.

“To speak robin to a robin is like speaking French to a Frenchman”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

3. Secrecy

 Since the title of the book is The Secret Garden, no matter what your   ideology about  honesty, you will learn  more the importance of secrecy.  This principle reminded me of a famous etiquette writer’s question that, “ When someone let you her/ into her world, would you tell the other people outside what you saw inside?” My reply to it, however, is ,” It depends on the situation.”

4. Friendship

Mary’s friendship with Dickon and Colin Craven teaches me to be congenial toward other people as well as love my best friends.

“You can lose a friend in springtime easier than any other season if you’re too curious.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

5. Positive Attitude

I liked Mrs. Snowby’s  , Martha’s mother, positive attitude. She influences all the main characters.  For instance, she sends a skipping rope for Mary because she is aware of the fact that  Mary   has   poor health. Also, she sends her healthy milk to put on weight. In fact,  Mr. Craven and Mrs. Medlock both look up to her wisdom despite her poor and austere way of life.

“Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The story is also interesting to ponder over in the context of psychology, religion, sociology, and philosophy.

In addition,  I was challenged by reading some dialogues with Yorkshire accent. I tried to turn over the contracted words in my mind until   my nose bled a great deal. But later on I learned to love and imitate it as did Mary Lennox.

However, I want to make a fuss over  three things :

  1. Where is Camilla? If you have seen its Japanese TV animation series,  you may know the fortuneteller and healer, Camilla. I can’t forget her  because  I liked the character she played in the story. She is also a symbol of a wise woman aside from Mrs. Sowerby, but scared because of her dour and somber aura.
  1. Also, I can’t forget the scene when Mr. Craven walks through the woods where he finds out that someone is hunting there without his permission. This scene gave me an idea then that he has  aristocratic authority.
  1. As far as I remember, Dr. Craven is a crafty character who intends to weaken Colin’s health since he knows that Archibald Craven has been crest-fallen since his wife died. When he dies, he will inherit all his wealth.However, in the story, he turns out to be an uncle who knows what ” flesh and blood “ means.

Anyway, I just guessed that the   story may have been added with some ideas  since it was adapted for  a Japanese TV  animation series .

Thanks to my student for this book present. Without my literary intercourse with her, I would not know that Frances Hodgson Burnnett is also the author of  the other  two famous children’s novels such as  A Little Princes, known as   Princess Sara and Little  Lord Fauntleroy.  So, I’m gonna read them too. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

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A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball : by Cho Se-Hui: A Book Review

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” People called father a dwarf. They were right. Father was a dwarf. Unfortunately, people were right only about that. They weren’t right anything else…”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

When it comes to reading books which themes have something to do with physical  deformities such as dwarfism, the condition of abnormal growth as  what we learned from Genetics,  the best examples are  novels  reflecting in social life of India such as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and  A  Son of the Circus by  American novelist, John Irving  .  I can understand that such body condition can exist in India   where the  scenes of poverty are probably,  in theory, the leading factor. However, in a developed and industrialized country as well as  heralded as  the “Electronics Capital of the World”, South Korea, such idea is  inconceivable. Perhaps, I have never met any  Korean students  with this  genetic  disease yet.  Besides, as far  as I learned, the Korean government provides its citizens with good health services. In other words, all of them can have free access to  life and health services. So, I was just deluded into the fact that all Koreans were “physically” perfect. That is why I was flabbergasted by  the  title  of this book which  has something to do with a dwarf. In the end, the setting of the story was when South Korea was still a poor country.

In an impoverished neighborhood in the outskirts of  Seoul, there was  a dwarf whose name was Kim Bur-ri, living as a head of his family. Ironically, the name of the place was Happiness District, Paradise County. Eventually, the neighborhood would go into redevelopment  as part of South Korea’s industrialization at that time. Kim Bu-ri’s house would  be one of the houses to be demolished. But the heart of the matter was how each member of the family, particularly  the dwarf’s three children would struggle desperately to restore the broken pieces  of their lives brought about by  the political-economic dilemmas.

The style of the story has a little resemblance to Japanese stories.  (Probably , Japanese literature influenced Korean  literature or vice-versa. ) The tone is  dead-flat, direct but quite soft and calm. It is not that strong   as what I feel in other novels. Besides, it is a combination of realism and fantasy which adds literary excitement to a reader like me. In addition, the flow of the story   is meditating and cathartic , typical of a writer who releases his burden feelings  with the practice of yoga or Zen meditation. Thus, it is not that boring as I had expected .  I wonder if the pathos is the same as the original  Korean version.

“Misconduct, corruption, bureaucratic cleanup – there was a time when those words appeared almost daily in the newspaper. Only then did the family in back lower the volume on their TV. They stowed away their refrigerator, washer, piano, tape player, and other such possessions in the basement and brought out their old clothes to wear in public.”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

If I  try to understand the deeper part of the story without much knowledge of the Korean history, the concept  deals with how  social changes  like industrialization affect human life, particularly a family. In the story, figuratively, dwarf Kim Bur-ri  symbolizes poor and socially  marginalized people , lagging behind the political-economic changes. What happens is how the impact of the  industrialization  affects   the family values. In the story, Kim Bu-ri came to the point that he ended up losing his dignity by working as a dwarf acrobat.

As I am falling to reading Eastern literature such as Japanese and  Korean literature , I come to the realization that there is really something unique  about the novels  written by East Asian writers. Sometimes, I conclude that as the History serves, all eastern Asian nations were one place. So, hypothetically, they had the same culture and customs.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: A Book Review

desaiI am very interested in reading books on India since I read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. This novel gave me an idea about life of Indians (although I already studied it in our high school History. ) I became more interested when I read A White Tiger by Aravind Adiga from which I learned the real face of social system in India, that people in the lower class get through miserable and sordid life. This fact opened my mind then. Probably, the novel that has had a significant impact upon me so far is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, a wonderful book I will definitely recommend to someone asking for what book they should read. Thereby, I always look for the other novels which have something to do with India since there are some included on 1001 Best Novels of All Time.

All the  above-mentioned books have complete resemblance – their themes are all about poverty. So when I saw this novel in a book store, I grabbed it because I have now the conception that Indian novels have something to do with India . On the other hand, Kiran Desai’ s has the same hallmark but not as heart-breaking and compelling as Rohinton Mistry’s . The way she wrote it is completely different from the other contemporary writers’ .

This novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 and National Circle Award in the same year. As a reader, do not underestimate why this is deserving of the said awards. In fact , the novel is not much of a good read beyond my taste ; however, objectively speaking, I agree with another famous Indian writer, Salman Rusdie, that Keran Desia is a terrific writer.

First: Desai’s writing style reminds me of Black-American writers’ novels; for example, the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. When you read the novel, you can assimilate the story into two interpretive ways either literally or figuratively. In other words, The Inheritance of Loss is steeped in latent implications, some kind of esoteric reading. Every sentence appears to be so deceiving that I don’t think you cannot get at what Desai wants to imply figuratively. As a cliché puts, “ Read between the lines.” So, could you have this knack of writing skill? Dear me! you might beat your head against the wall thinking about the best and most beautiful fragments you could fabricate as long as 7 years as  Desai took time to finish it.

Second: The novel is what the social world must know . Its themes deal with the social issues nowadays even since before, not only applicable to India and Nepal but also to every nation in the world which must have the same conditions specifically such as :

(a ) American dream also exists in India. The western culture influences the psyches of Indians . Consequently, due to the extreme poverty probably brought about by big population, corruption, and ridiculous so-called Caste System, most Indians are so hapless that they dream of venturing out to the USA. In reality, their life turns out to be more miserable than what they expect to be.

(b) The effects of Imperialism and colonial-mentality upon the social system raise awareness among chauvinists and jingoists. In fact, in the novel, Sai’s retired judge grandpa shows an air of aristocracy and I-am- better-than-you attitude upon his arrival in India after long studies and services under the British government. Such social situation also exists in the Philippines.

( c) Secessionism. A political situation that loses the real identity of a nation.

The novel also deals with feeling of emptiness, the atmospheric feeling I felt from the beginning to the end.

“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”

All the rage in the story is the miscegenation between Sai Mistry and Gyan . I found their mutual understanding ridiculous, but their relationship could be symbolic , for Sai is Indian and Gyan; Nepalese.

On the other hand, the only thing that impedes my interest is the Indian words and dialogues with I am not familiar and beyond my understanding. But I believe this is the essence of writing such book; it only reflects the nationalistic observation of Kiran Desia.

Besides, I cannot brush the idea that this novel was as though each story in each chapter had just been patched together as Desai’s successful breakthrough after seven years of writing it. Still, it is a tour de force. Congratulations Ms. Kiran Desai! I envy your febrile imagination. ^^

Prior to this , Desai was already popular among literary critics for her Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard , which I will read as soon as I buy it. ^^

Rating : 5 / 5 stars