“A man who takes no interest in politics has no business here at all.”
Pericles (495 – 429 BCE)
Pericles (495 – 429 BCE)
To buy any of the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please follow the steps below. Click on the image to be directed to the KINDLE STORE.
Phil Wade (please refer to his biodata at the bottom of this post) has been very supportive of my series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART from the very beginning. Last week he asked me if he could interview me for the ELT EBOOKS BLOG (www.eltebooks.wordpress.com ) he’s in charge of. He is an eBook writer himself and understands that the more we talk about these new trends and educate people about the cutting-edge work we are doing, the more informed the English Language Teaching (ELT) community will be, and, as a consequence, school coordinators, teachers, parents and students will be able to make better choices regarding the materials they adopt. Ebooks and self-publishing are the future of the industry, and I’m glad we chose to be on board this early. Here’s the interview as published in his blog.
Phil: What is your opinion of the current ELT ebook market?
Jorge Sette: Like all the other markets, the ELT book market is undergoing a radical transformation. It’s becoming digital. However, there is still a lot of resistance to this new reality. Teachers and parents of course, because of their age, tend to be more conservative, and therefore will prefer the use of print materials as a rule. It feels more tangible to them. On the other hand, even more forward-thinking or younger teachers, and also students, are not used to paying for anything they get from the Internet, which makes it difficult for ELT publishers and writers to go fully digital, as the business model has not been fully established yet. However, I firmly believe there’s no going back, and in the very near future we will all be reading and studying from tablets, smartphones and other devices. I myself have been reading mainly eBooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers for the past 5 years or so. And paying for them too (laugh).
Phil: How do you write your ebooks?
Jorge Sette: Well I love art and love English teaching, so it was only natural for me to combine both passions. I uploaded some free presentations involving teaching English in the context of art on SlideShare a couple of years ago and found out lots of other teachers liked the idea too. I realized then there was a market for these materials, as they were not common in the ELT world. So I decided to write a series of supplementary eBooks on vocabulary, speaking and writing which would tap into famous works of art as a springboard for exercises to be done in the language classroom. My writing process is the following: I tend to choose artists who are famous to start with. Then I go thorough their works on the Internet or print books I have at home to decide if their paintings lend themselves easily to the creation of classroom activities. Then I read a coupe of well-known biographies on the painter and watch videos about his works on YouTube, so I understand their life, style and motivations better. Even if very little of this homework is reflected directly in the books themselves, I know I will write better if I have this background knowledge and information about the artist stored in my head when I start developing the tasks.
Phil: What feedback have you received?
Jorge Sette: I have run some campaigns on Amazon.com where some of my eBooks are given away for free, as it’s important to get the word out, and have key teachers get to know and talk about them. These campaigns function in the same way publishers give free samples to teachers aiming at getting an adoption for their print materials. There have been hundreds of downloads throughout the world during these campaigns. However, not everybody who downloads the materials gives us feedback. Many teachers, though, have written to me directly saying they loved the books and that their students have been benefitting from the activities. Of course most people who care to write to us are the ones who have a positive opinion, so I still need to investigate more on how the books can be improved, as I haven’t received much negative feedback to help me in this direction.
Phil: Why does Art appeal to so many different kinds of teachers?
Jorge Sette: Well, teaching English with art is a powerful tool. I summarized all the advantages of using art in the language class in a post I wrote for my blog LINGUAGEM, which your readers can access by clicking here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1jO
As a summary, though, I would say that teachers like it because it makes the lesson more fun and, therefore, more motivating. It allows the inclusion, in the English class, of other subjects studied in the curriculum, such as a history, geography, mythology, psychology and literature. In addition to that, art involves emotion, which makes language more relevant and memorable. And, finally, its flexibility makes it easy for teachers to personalize exercises and allows for open answers and freer practice, which is an important phase in the language acquisition process: if the students use the language to express their own reality, dreams, experiences and aspirations, chances are their development as language learners will improve.
Phil: Which is your favourite activity from your ebooks and why?
Jorge Sette: I myself love the storytelling activities, both oral and written. Everyone loves a good story, and if you can create your own version of a story based on a painting, you will certainly enjoy the process. I encourage the use of process writing in the eBooks, which shifts the focus to drafting rather than coming up with a final product immediately. The more drafts a student produces the better writer she will become. Having said that, I suspect different students will enjoy different kinds of activities, so we provide a huge variety of exercises to cater for different tastes and learning styles.
ABOUT PHIL WADE:
Phil has been designing, managing and teaching English courses in language schools, universities and companies for 15 years. He has also written numerous articles and elearning courses. His current passion is ebooks and has written 11 ebooks and co-written several others. He is currently working on a Business English ebook due out in January. Phil blogs about ELT ebooks at www.eltebooks.wordpress.com
Vincent van Gogh was born in the village of Groot-Zundert, south of the Netherlands on March 30, 1853, to upper middle class parents. His father was a protestant pastor and the family lived in the parsonage near the border with Belgium. His family: father, mother, and five siblings were very important to the artist all his life. He had a love-and-hate relationship with them, especially his father Dorus, breaking up with him a number of times, but always patching things up and trying to reconcile with them. Reliving the peace and harmony of his childhood days in the Zundert parsonage, when the whole family lived together remained an obsession and an impossibility throughout van Gogh’s life.
Before he launched his career as an artist in 1880, van Gogh worked as an art dealer in the business of richer members of his family (Goupil and Cie), a teacher and an evangelist, never quite managing to succeed in any of these jobs. He was not lucky at love either, having been rejected by a cousin, which caused him, heartbroken, to decide to live with a prostitute, Sien, and her son for a couple of years. He claimed it was his duty to rescue her.
He considered himself a failure for not being able to find a place in society and to follow a proper career, blaming sometimes himself and other times the lack of support and vision of his family and acquaintances for not finding a professional role. His parents were in fact ashamed of his lonesome and difficult eldest son. In spite of all this, he spent most of his life living off the financial support of his father and, then, his brother Theo, 6 years his junior, with whom he developed a strong bond and carried out an extensive written correspondence. It’s through these letters that we know so much about the convoluted life and inner feelings of this artist.
Vincent van Gogh lacked interpersonal skills, was awkward in society, and full of contradictory feelings. Having trouble getting along with people in general was perhaps the main reason he was not able to keep the many jobs he held. He was eccentric, explosive and reclusive. Under the advice of his brother Theo, he finally found his true path as an artist. But, at the beginning he refused to produce anything commercial, so he could not live off his craft and talent. He focused on painting the human figure, especially members of the lower classes. And he didn’t like to use color. His drawings were mostly in black and white, made with pen or charcoal, or paintings in drab colors. He only drew and painted what he wished, never making any concessions to the market’s taste, which made his financial life very hard.
As we mentioned before, his favorite subject at the time was the human figure, and he was always striving to hire models among the common people of the various towns he lived in: peasants, miners, weavers and prostitutes. Most of them found it very hard to work with him, and he was always requiring more money from Theo to be able to hire more professional models in places like Antwerp, where he lived for a while.
Only when he moved to Paris in the late years of his short life, sharing a space with Theo, he started to fully develop as an artist, incorporating in his painting traits of the Impressionists – which were becoming very popular at the time – Japanese art, the social works of Manet and Courbet, features of the English landscapist John Constable, the pointillism of Seurat, among other influences. It was then that he started to use bright colors, leaving the drabness and the gloominess of his previous drawings and paintings behind.
In February 1888, he moved to Arles, in the south of France, to make use in his paintings of the bright colors under the Provence sun. There, he rented and lived in what became the famous Yellow House of his biography, initiating one of the most productive periods of his career, painting from day to night, sometimes finishing 3 works a day. Vincent dreamed of turning the place into a utopian community for modern artists – the Studio of the South – where they could work together, exchange ideas and create something unique, based on the strong influences of the past masters and yet innovating painting radically. He aimed for a new Renaissance.
In October 1888 the French painter Paul Gauguin came to Arles to live and work with van Gogh. They had a very tense and tumultuous relationship, though, which ended up with Gauguin leaving the house a couple of months after his arrival. Vincent was left in such an unstable mental state after the quarrel with Paul that he allegedly cut off part of his ear and sent it to a prostitute. He was committed to mental institutions twice after that.
Despite all the external influences van Gogh incorporated in his work, his paintings and drawings remained true to his deep feelings and notions of art. He developed idiosyncratic traits as an artist and imbued his landscapes, portraits, and still lives with his own very unique style, characterized by the use of bright and sometimes unusual combination of colors, large brushstrokes, and fine draftsmanship, which turned his works into effective channels to express his innermost feelings. The seeds of the XX’s century expressionism have been identified in van Gogh’s final and most famous woks.
His most famous paintings were produced during the last two years before his suicide on July 29t, 1890, at age 37. Out of more than 900 pieces of work he put out throughout his short but productive career, only one painting – The Red Vineyards Near Arles – was sold while he was still alive.
He never foresaw how successful he would become, although he was fully aware of how powerful his work was and never doubted his talent and vision as an artist. Today, his paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars, and he’s one of the most famous and beloved artists of Western culture. Among his most recognized paintings, we can list masterpieces such as The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House and Starry Night.
If you wish to a have a chance to discuss and practice English vocabulary, speaking and writing skills based on some of the invaluable works of this unique artist, please check out our series of supplementary materials TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, featuring, works not only by van Gogh, but also by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell so far. New materials are scheduled to come out in the near future, watch this space.
Click on the link below to know more about the eBooks: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Watch our promo video on the eBook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VICENT VAN GOGH:
What’s your favorite artist? Let us know so we can feature him/her in our series.
Find our how much you know about one of the most famous artists of Western Culture.
Check out the video clip on the ebook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH
If you are interested in TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, you might want to check out our successful series of eBooks available from the KINDLE STORE. Just click on the picture below for further info:
Teaching English with Art: Vincent van Gogh. This seventh volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities (now including specific vocabulary exercises) for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most beloved and controversial artists of Western Culture, VINCENT VAN GOGH.
The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of van Gogh. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
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Check out the video clip on the ebook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH
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We had The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. All these shows made history by breaking new ground in televison, focusing on the excellence of scripts, stunning acting and great premises.
The Sopranos dared to show in our living rooms how disturbingly “normal” a Mob family could look as seen from the inside, and thus struck a powerful blow on corporate America by likening the lifestyle and “business” methods used by Mob leader Tony to those commonly employed by CEOs of huge companies throughout the world.
Mad Men is all about contrasting society’s habits and especially womens’s position in the workplace by focusing on a a group of advertisers in the 1960s – the coolest professional category at the time – and having us analyse the context with today’s eyes. Has it changed that much? Do men, although behaving more subtly, still have the same demeaning attitudes towards women in the workplace? Food for thought. In addition to that, for those who work in the area of marketing, as I do, it’s fascinating to see how simple and direct it was for those Madison Avenue guys to lure and entice customers back in the sixties, when companies kept all the power of communication, especially through television, as opposed to the shift and landslide caused but the Internet and social media these days, which have given the customer a lot more voice and power in dealing with product/service sellers.
Walter White, the iconic protagonist of Breaking Bad, taught us that not all human beings are stable enough to maintain a solid and permant state of sanity and acceptable social behavior intact when exposed to extreme circumstances and under brutal pressure (in his case, the fact that cancer would eventually kill him and leave his family – wife and two kids – financially unprotected, after years of slaving away as a chemistry school teacher). He decides then to use his brilliant knowledge as a scientist to start a new and illegal business, becoming the fearless and cold-blooded drug dealer Heisenberg. Again, it’s been said that watching the show would easily substitute for a formal business course at Harvard! More than that, however, it demonstrates the lengths a person will go and the changes in personality that may occur as the result of one’s feeling abused and wronged by the institutions of one’s community.
Now we are watching another one of these groundbreaking series American TV has been lavishing upon us for the past 15 years or so. They are becoming even more daring as they stand on the shoulders of previous giants. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, for example, under the pretext of depicting the life of the inmates of a women’s federal prison, explores the feminine universe in all its details. The prison reflects of course what goes on with women in the American society as whole. With a lot of humor and irony, but also delicacy and poignancy, the show discusses the nuances of real (as opposed to stereotyped) lesbianism and homophobia, the violence and prejudice against minorities (women, blacks, latinos, homosexuals, immigrants, religious cultists and transexuals) and, not less interestingly, how power is gained, maintained and lost at different times in a community. The show is very political in bringing to light the different kinds of negotiations and shady deals one has to strike at all hierarchical levels to survive and keep one’s dignity and rights in society. I will not say anything about the ensemble of great actors who compose the cast. Suffice it to say that the acting is superb and the actos’ looks are initially revolting – until you grow accustomed to them and realize that’s what real people look like. Unlike the fake ” ugly ” looks worn by the likes of Meryl Streep in Ironweed or Charlize Theron in Monster, the women in OITNB look rather common, it’s just that we are not used to seeing them on TV. I have just read an article on the Internet pointing out that the show is effectively changing peoples’ negative opinions and attitudes towards the minorities it featured. Besides great entertainment, what more can you expect from a TV show? Well done!
Do you watch Orange is the New Black? What do you think of it? Please leave a comment in the appropriate section of the blog before you move to another page.
Art tends to be surrounded by awe and respect. Museums resemble cathedrals in the way people move around the halls speaking in hushed tones and looking humbly at the works on display. Art or Hight Art – as it’s sometimes called – should be regarded in a more natural and intimate way by the viewers. The lack of great museums in the region makes the contact with art a particularly formal experience for us Latin Americans. But things are changing as more and more people go abroad, frequent museums, and substitute pleasure and fun for the old sense of respect infused in them when they stood in front of a famous painting or sculpture not many years ago. The myths we are outlining below concern more that kind of art you find in museums and galleries: the visual art produced by the great masters.
1. Art is usually spontaneous and organic. The legend says the talent lies dormant in the artist until it’s suddenly awaken by the muses. In fact, the development of artistic skills is a long and hard path, involving a lot of academic learning, Of course, there are more or less intuitive artists, and mentors may sometimes replace art schools. Formal learning, however, is integral to the process and only practice makes perfect.
2. The best art has idealized versions of mythology, history or biblical themes as its subject matter. This tradition started being disputed around the time the pre-Impressionists, such as Manet with his mundane and realistic nudes, and the social art of Courbet. Their fight against tradition and academicism was taken to a whole new level by the Impressionists, especially by Monet, who understood art as the apprehension of fleeting moments in time such as the effects of light bouncing off trees, water and plain people in everyday situations. That was what mattered and deserved registering.Colors became bright and more vibrant.
3. The best art is realistic. Fauvism, Cubism and Modern Art in general showed that there was not much point in replicating what film and photography had started doing so well as of the XIX century. Art couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with them. So art needed to change. It should remain an expression of what is human, including reality, but as seen through the eyes, emotions, neuroses, and obsessions of the artistic self. Art was a personal way to express the artist’s inner world. Unlike previous painters, the sense of perspective developed since the Renaissance and the concepts of beauty and balance taken as tenets by the artistic community underwent an earthquake which shattered those ideals to pieces. This is still going on.
4. Art dealers and critics are the experts and they know it all about good and bad taste. We all know how the Impressionist group struggled to have their works exhibited in the tradition-dominated Salón in XIX century Paris. There are no absolutes in art and if you read Tom Wolf’s iconoclastic The Painted Word – which I strongly recommend – you will laugh widely and be infused by a sense of liberation as he dissects and analyses ironically the American art of the XX century. There is also a hilarious chapter in his latest book, Back to Blood, which mocks merciless the Modern Art World of contemporary Miami, with its dealers, experts, artists and stupid billionaire clients. A must-read.
5. You have an innate predisposition to love, hate or be totally indifferent to art. Not so simple. Just like marmite – for those who have had a chance, like me, to live in he UK for a while and see this initially disgusting jam-like spread sitting on the breakfast table every morning, or even Japanese food, whose ever-present ripe odor coming out of restaurants may put you off getting in at first – art is an acquired taste. You don’t have to like it right away, but you may grow to love it by exposure. There is no need to enjoy every famous artist either. Be selective. Art grows in people. And I strongly defend that by offering history of art as a subject in the secondary and high school – not very common in most schools in South America – or by parents exposing their kids to art books at home or visiting museums, young people’s taste will get more refined and we will see a growth in art appreciation over time.
6. Art is for older people. The younger you are the more appealing iconoclastic and unconventional art will look to you, especially if you have a rebel streak (who doesn’t?) in you. Therefore your initial interest for the drama and violence in Caravaggio, as you grow more mature, may be replaced by calmer Monets or a more contained Velàzquez later on in life. Their beauty and absence of direct conflict can be refreshing as you grow more mature. I still love Janis Joplin, The Stones, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Sometimes it was not even the quality of their music but their life style, perfomances and stage persona – some of them very short-lived, by the way – which captivated me. However, as I grew more mature, classical music started to show its charms and take over my musical taste.
We will be talking more about art in the next post. Watch this space.
If you are a language teacher and interested in art you may want to check out our new series of ebooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, available for download from the Kindle Store. We focus on vocabulary learning, speaking and writing skills in the series. Check it out by clicking here: : http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
In the early 1940s, Matisse underwent a serious and invasive surgery as part of treatment for intestinal cancer. After the operation, he was a very different person, lacking the energy and strength to be on his feet for long stretches of time at the easel painting on a canvas.
However, he was about to start a revolutionary new phase in his artistic life. Despite his physical weakness, his mind seemed to be ablaze with creativity and many say he was given a second life. This resurrection manifested itself mainly through a new art form he began to develop at the time: his famous cut-outs. Instead of painting, Matisse would now spend his days in bed or in a wheelchair, cutting out, with huge tailor scissors, abstract forms directly from gouache-painted sheets of paper, and then, with the help of assistants, pin them against a white background in striking and original compositions.
He would constantly move the pieces around until he was fully satisfied with the final result of these “collage-like” designs. The colors were vibrant and pure, lending the composition a life-affirming quality. Icarus is one of the most famous works from this period.
The Legend of Icarus
In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, a master craftsman from ancient Athens, were made prisoners on the island of Crete after helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, which Daedalus himself had designed for King Minus.
The Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who lived in the center of the labyrinth
Daedalus plotted to escape from his prison by making wings of feather and wax for himself and his son. However, he warned Icarus against flying too close to the sun because his wings would melt. Icarus, in the typical fashion of bold young men, disobeyed his father’s instructions and soared to the heights, coming dangerously close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to the sea, drowning. The story of Icarus is usually used as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition.
Many critics and viewers suspect that there is an alternative source of inspiration to the Icarus cut-out. What do you think it might be? What may this work represent if not necessarily the legend of Icarus?
Imagine that this work is about the horrors of war instead. After all, Matisse put it together soon after the end of the Second World War. In this case, what do you think each element of the cut-out stands for? Think about this interpretation and try to see the elements of the work in the light of this new context. It will add a lot to it.
If you wish to read more about Matisse’s cut-outs, please refer to our previous blog post: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kq
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Matisse and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Philip Roth died last night at 85. This article was written a couple of years ago.
For the usual readers of this blog, it’s no surprise that I consider Philip Roth the best living North American writer. This opinion is shared by many other people, so I’m not alone in this assumption. I was lucky to have read my first Roth – although in Portuguese – when I was still in college: Portnoy’s Complaint. Of course, I was duly scandalized by the account of the life and troubles of a young Jewish American man who does not refrain from telling the explicit details of his sexual activities to a silent therapist. Maybe I was not as shocked as the readers who first came across the book when it came out in the 1960s, but the late 1980s in Recife, Brazil, were still pretty conservative for the likes of Roth. As a matter of fact, I would say the whole world still is.
Roth does not mince words. He is brutal and unsentimental in the depiction of his characters, despite the love and care you sense he feels for most of them deep down, if you read his novels attentively. He tends to strip men and women of their social disguises, digs deep, and exposes them almost cruelly to our judgment. Some say he is a misogynist in his portrayal of women. Well, if you read Sabath’s Teather, in which he creates one of the most disgusting and at the same time fascinating male characters in Western literature, you may change your mind. He can be as harsh towards men, after all. The world is in general tougher on women and, therefore, misogynistic itself. Roth’s novels are a mere reflection of life as it is. More precisely: his novels illuminate angles and dark corners of life we try to hide from our eyes and thoughts.
This blog post has the simple objective of listing 4 of my favorite Roth novels and what I personally took away from them. Please don’t take my word for it. Immerse yourselves in the original sources and feel free to interpret them as you feel you should. The comments below may be entertaining, though. However, I’ll never presume they reveal the essence of each of the discussed works.
1, Nemesis: New Jersey in the mid 1940s. A horrible outbreak of polio causes mayhem in a peaceful community. Children are badly affected, especially the ones who live in the Jewish and Italian quarters of the city. Few families are not hit by tragedy. It’s practically impossible to run away from it. Are the gods against them or are they on their own in a world ruled by the random manifestations of an indifferent nature. Does it matter? The only option left for humans struck by horror and tragedy is to accept it and find a mental way of coping with the debris. Nothing else makes sense or will help our species. Stand up for yourself and fight on your terms. Throw your javelin with all the beauty and strength of a God (an image you will find in the book) and defy your peers in Mount Olympus.
2. American Pastoral: Winner of the Pulitzer prize for best work of fiction in 1998. This novel tells the story of the idyllic life of a perfect upper-middle class American family, eventually shattered to pieces when the sweet and amorous daughter grows up to become a rebel teenager and join militants in a protest against the Vietnam war, allegedly planting a bomb in the local post office and killing a bystander. She then runs away, disappearing forever from home. I guess the takeaway from this book is given in the first chapters, in a different context, when we are still in the story outside the story, which makes the complex framing structure of the novel. Do we really know what people are like? Nathan Zuckerman, one of Roth’s recurrent characters, who may function as his alter ego, shares this painful truism with us: “You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”
3. Sabbath’s Theater: Not for the faint of heart, this book depicts the progressive moral and physical deterioration of a man who has never had any other ambition rather than entertain people through running a marionette show in the streets of New York. It’s when this puppeteer blurs the limits between what you can do to your dolls as opposed to other real human beings that the problems start. You cannot manipulate people without suffering serious consequences. The dolls will turn on you eventually and your life will become a nightmare. The most amazing thing about the book is the ability of the writer to turn one of the most repellent characters ever created in Western literature, Mickey Sabbath, into a sympathetic and even lovable person for a legion of fans, who can sense all the humanity that oozes out of him.
4. The Human Stain (spoiler alert: you can’t discuss this book without giving some essential info away – in my defense, all I can say is the info I’m about to share will be revealed in the first chapters of the novel anyway.) This novel is not a whodunit kind of work, rest assured. A Jewish former professor and dean of the fictitious Athenas College in Massachusetts is forced to resign after, going through the roll call, asks the class if a couple of listed students who never show up and whom he never met personally “are real or spooks”. It so happens that in those days of the end of the 1990s spook was a loaded word, a derogatory epithet for African Americans. In the intolerant and hypocritical climate of the reign of the politically correct, the professor is the perfect scape goat, and everyone who’s ever held any grudge against him jumps at the opportunity to tap into the incident to profit from it, by destroying his reputation. Unjust, unfair, stupid. Worse: Professor Coleman Silk is in truth an African American himself, who, for excelling in boxing when he was young and having light skin, passed for white in the eyes of a number of influencial people on his way up the sport’s ladder, and decided to assume this fake persona. He had been a youth in the 1950s and realized he would never have the same opportunities of a white person to fulfill his potential no matter how hard he tried. He is offered a way out and takes it, abandoning his family and his previous life, and recreating himself as a completely new person, whose potential could now be tapped to the full. He becomes the Jewish professor Silk. But he will pay dearly for it and for breaking other conventions of the times. He is a born transgressor. A fighter. The reader is therefore left with the painful and disturbing question of whether he/she would have done the same thing. Haven’t we all done something similar to some extent in our lives: compromising, betraying, discarding deeply ingrained beliefs and principles to succeed and get ahead? Or at least to be given a shot at the possibility of winning, when all the odds are against us? A powerful and uncomfortable novel, I can’t stop returning to it. I’m always going back to Silk’s saga to reflect on my own values and how truthful I still remain to them.
If you have the chance, get one of those books and read them. I can guarantee they will change you somehow.