Wednesday, July 22, 2020

DVD: Emma

The 2018 version of Emma directed by Autumn de Wilde is probably one of the quirkiest adaptations of a period drama in years.

The movie is based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name and follows wealthy, young Emma Woodhouse as she meddles in other people's affairs to mostly disastrous results. Set in Regency England, in the fictional village of Highbury, a young Emma has a much overrated opinion of her ability to match make. She is fresh off the success of pairing her governess Miss Taylor with the older Mr. Weston. The movie opens with the marriage of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston and Emma's father lamenting that Emma should stop making matches.

From this success, Emma takes Harriet Smith, a young woman of unknown parentage under her tutelage, encouraging her to set her sights on a marriage to a man above her station in life. At tea,  Harriet reveals that she has received an offer of marriage from Mr. Martin, a tenant farmer whom she finds attractive and pleasing. However, Emma encourages her to refuse him. After all, Emma is certain that Harriet is the daughter of a gentleman and therefore destined to do much better than Mr. Martin.

When Emma's long time family friend, Mr. Knightley learns of Harriet's refusal, he scolds Emma for her part in it. Knightley had counselled Mr. Martin to ask for Harriet's hand in marriage. Now he tells Emma she may have ruined Harriet's best chance for a happy life.

Undeterred,  Emma attempts to match up Harriet with the vicar, Mr. Elton, by setting up numerous situations for the two to meet, even arranging Harriet to sit while she paints her likeness. Mr. Elton appears to be flirting with Harriet however, Emma soon discovers that it is she who is the object of Mr. Elton's desires when he proposes to her. When Emma reveals this to Harriet she is devastated.

Meanwhile Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston's son by his first marriage, visits Highbury. At first Emma finds herself taken by the handsome Frank Churchill. At this time Jane Fairfax, a relative of the Bates also arrives in Highbury for a visit. Mr. Elton's new wife, the former Miss Augusta Hawkins decides that she will help Jane find a suitable position as a governess, something Jane does not want. In contrast to their affection towards Jane, the Eltons are rude to Harriet whom they consider well below their station. When Mr. Knightley offers to dance with Harriet at a social, Harriet takes this as a sign of his interest and becomes infatuated with him.

Despite her blunder with Harriet and Mr. Elton, Emma continues to believe she can discern . Mr. Knightley believes Jane and Frank are interested in one another but a pianoforte anonymously gifted to Jane causes Emma to believe someone else is responsible.

At a ball given by the Westons, Harriet is snubbed by Mr. Elton but is saved by the chivalrous Mr. Knightley who asks her to dance. At the same ball, Emma and Knightley dance and it is at this time that Knightley realizes he loves Emma. Early the next morning Harriet is carried by Frank Churchill to Hartfield. She indicates in a vague way, that she has found love again, even though the person is well above her station. Emma believes Harriet to be referring to Frank Churchill.

Emma once again meets with Mr. Knightley disapproval when she makes a terribly unkind remark about Miss Bates during a picnic on Box Hill. Emma visits the Bates, to apologize and to bring some food, and learns that Jane is not well. Shortly after, Frank Churchill's aunt dies and it is revealed that he and Jane are in fact engaged. Meanwhile, Harriet reveals that she believes Mr. Knightley is courting her. This shocking revelation confounds Emma as to how she could be so wrong. She wills herself not to influence Harriet but instead walks to Donwell, Mr. Knightley's estate.

There she stunned to receive Knightley's proposal. Emma reveals to Knightley that she will not accept his proposal until Harriet's situation is sorted out. Knightley offers to go and urge Mr. Martin to make his suit again but Emma tells him that since she is responsible for what has not happened between Harriet and Mr. Martin, she must go. The result is two marriages, Harriet and Mr. Martin and Emma and Mr. Knightley!

Discussion

This adaptation features Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse, Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, Josh O'Connor as Mr. Elton, Mia Goth as Harriet Smith, Callum Turner as Frank Churchill and Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax. All give strong performances.

Like many of the adaptations before it, de Wilde's version is true to Austen's novel, offering some of the lines Austen fans will be familiar with. de Wilde spends some time setting the story up, dividing her film into four seasons beginning with Summer and passing through Autumn, Winter, Spring and ending with Summer. While the first part of the film feels well paced, that latter two seasons feel rushed as they move through the Frank Churchill story to resolve the tension between Harriet, Frank, Jane, Emma and Mr. Knightley.

The Eltons taking tea at Hartfield
Some scenes are particularly well done, for example the picnic at Box Hill in which Emma insults Miss Bates. The change in atmosphere as a result of her unkindness is well portrayed, with the afternoon outing ruined. The tension that develops between Emma and Knightley is well played with Emma leaving in tears. In other scenes, the comedic element is played to its utmost, as when Mr. Elton and his new wife visit Hartfield and Elton is focused on eating some of the delicious desserts set in front of him. Mrs. Elton in her dark orange dress with her black hair bow, all true to Regency style, are memorable. Some scenes are simply strange, such as Knightley's proposal to Emma in which she inexplicably suffers a nose bleed while revealing to him Harriet's mistaken infatuation.

Unlike many period dramas there is some minor nudity in Emma; there's Knightley's backside revealed at the beginning of the film, to what purpose is unknown, perhaps to demonstrate to viewers how Regency men dressed, and Emma is seen lifting her dress to warm her bare buttocks by the fire, perhaps to demonstrate her penchant for breaking the rules and being somewhat irreverent.

Director Autumn de Wilde and her production team which included Oscar-winning clothing designer Alexandra Byrne, did considerable research into Regency clothing and decor and it shows in this adaptation. The clothing and hair styles are all authentic to the Regency period with its mustard yellows, pinks, and deep orange palette. de Wilde wanted to use the clothing as a way to portray the class differences, a theme in Austen's novel. As a result, Emma's clothing is elaborate and rich in colour, while Harriet's is much simpler and comprised of subdued pastels. The mens' clothing was also designed to convey social status. For example, the wealthy Mr. Woodhouse, clad in his exquisite beige, white and grey floral housecoat contrasts sharply to the dark tweeds of Harriet's suitor, Mr. Martin. One clothing item that stands out is the brilliant red cloaks of Harriet and her fellow school girls. While reminiscent of the red capes in the Handmaid's Tale, in fact this colour was common in Regency clothing for girls of Harriet's class.

The use of pastel greens, blues, pinks and yellows in the decor were also true to the Regency period. As with many period dramas, the settings are half the fun and in this case coordinate well with the costuming and the scenes being played out within them. Knightley's Donwell estate, the interior of which is presented only briefly at the beginning, is simply breathtaking and leaves the viewer wishing to see more. Even the meals and their settings are remarkably sumptuous.

Overall this adaptation of Emma is interesting, unique and plays up the comedic element while highlighting the theme of class and privilege. The rich costuming and set design make Emma a visual delight. But what is most absent is the unassuming chivalry of Mr. Knightley as he works to make Emma into a serious, considerate and mature young woman. It is this characteristic that made the 2009 BBC miniseries version so appealing and romantic.

image credit: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/new-emma-may-look-pretty-jane-austen-deserves-treated-seriously/

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri Smith

The Blossom and the Firefly is a haunting story of love, duty and rebirth during the final days of World War II. Set in 1945 Japan the story is divided into two narratives.

The first is that of sixteen-year-old Hana Benkan who lives with her mother in Chiran which is located on the island of Kyushu, just above Okinawa.  It is April, 1945 and Hana's father is off at war. Hana along with her friend Mariko as well as Sachiko, Hisako and Kazuko and the other eighteen girls in her unit from Chiran Junior High School board a truck that takes them into the Chrian Army Air Force Base. Hana's mother believes that she still attends school but like the other girls, she has not told her mother to protect her.

Hana has survived a bombing that buried her alive. While working in the sweet potato fields, Hana and the others had to hide in trenches from bombs being dropped by the Americans. Hana's trench collapsed and she was buried alive. Hana survived but was so traumatized she couldn't eat for a week. Devotion to duty forces her both to eat and work.

Hana has never known a Japan at peace. At first Japan was at war with China, controlling Manchukuo but with the 1930's Depression, the Empire spread into Nanking, Beijing and even further south. When Hana was twelve-years-old, Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Eventually Hana's father, a tailor and musician enlisted, leaving behind his beloved instrument, a thirteen stringed koto.

So instead of school, Hana and the other girls are part of Nadeshiko Tai a unit that cares for the tokko, attack pilots known as kamikaze. Their missions are always their last as they give their lives for Japan and the Emperor. Hana, Mariko and her friends wash their clothing and mend their socks. They also serve the boys their meals consisting of rice, pickled plum and seaweed. For Hana it has been a learning curve, unable to sew when she was younger due to her soft fingers and many mistakes, she is now adept at mending.

Each day more and more pilots come and spend their last days in the barracks. Until one day a group arrive which includes a young pilot, tall with dark hair, who plays music that captivates Hana. His music not only reawakens Hana, but she finds herself falling in love with this pilot doomed to die for his country.

The second narrative traces the life of Tokko pilot, Taro Inoguchi beginning in 1928 when he is baby. In 1933 while watching the kamishibai man tell a story with his father, Taro hears a "high sweet voice singing to him" and entranced, races off to find it. He learns from his father that this "bird" is an instrument from the West called a violin. By the winter of 1936, eight-year-old Taro now studying violin, plays Miyagi Michio's The Sea in Spring for his parents and Ayugai-sensei, his violin teacher. Ayugai tells his parents that he has yet to feel the music; that he lacks the mono no aware. This is a Japanese term meaning an understanding and sense of the transiency of this life.


In the spring of 1938, Taro's father goes off to war. He is an aeronautical engineer and will be running the maintenance of Japan's air fleet on the mainland. Later, Taro watches as his father flies over their house in his silver plane, waggling his wings as he promised. By the summer of 1940, Taro is struggling to master Mozart and gain his father's approval. But his father believes that studying music is fruitless and that Taro should be an engineer. With Japan at war, Taro's father believes that he should attend the Army Youth Pilot School in order to get the best assignments in the Imperial Military Academy. Taro, only twelve-years-old, in an attempt to please his father, decides he will apply for the Shonen Hikohei, Youth Pilot School. It will mean giving fifteen years of his life to the army, but it will also mean a chance to make his parents proud and to be a war hero.

During the winter of 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Taro and his mother learn that Japan has now declared war on the United States and the British Empire. Taro and his classmates along with other Japanese believe the Americans do not have the fortitude or the discipline to enter into war. They are elated. By the spring of 1943, Taro is  enrolled in the Oita Air Cadet School where he meets fellow cadet Kenji Nakamura. Twelve months later the two friends graduate and move on to Tachiarai Army Flying School in Fukuoka, on the southern tip of Kyushu. Taro's mother attends the graduation ceremony and gives him an senninabri, a sash with one thousand rows of knotted red stitches made to protect soldiers in battle.

In February of 1945, Japan becomes increasingly desperate with the Americans closing in on Okinawa. Having suffered increasing losses, Captain Hibara asks for volunteers for a new attack squadron, a tokko unit. Taro and his friend Nakamura along with the other young pilots all volunteer. Given a brief leave to go home to see his mother, Taro cannot bring himself to tell his mother what he has volunteered for. As they prepare for their first mission, Taro meets Hana.

Hana and Taro's lives come together when he arrives at the Chiran Base as part of the Tokko Tai. One day Hana hears Taro playing his violin and just as he was years earlier, she is drawn to the beauty of the violin. On the morning of his final mission, Taro decides to give his violin to the young girl who saw him playing earlier in the barracks.  But things do not go as planned on his mission.  Taro must deal with his shame and deep conflict over still being alive. When they are given a second chance,  Hana and Taro spend some time together to make up with the lifetime they will never share. Their brief time together as Taro prepares for his second attempt at body crashing blossoms into longing and love. Both, rescued from death now have a reason to live, that will remain unfulfilled. But once again fate intervenes, and that lifetime both wished for may just happen.


Discussion

Sherri Smith has crafted a deeply moving novel that explores a unique aspect of World War II. In The Blossom and the Firefly, Smith focuses on the war effort in Japan in the last days of the conflict in the Pacific. Her story is one of love, inner conflict, duty, sacrifice, and hope.

Her two main characters, Hana Benkan and Taro Inoguchi, are young teenagers whose lives have been overshadowed by war for as long as they can remember.  Hana, who survived being buried alive in a trench during a bombing, has been deeply traumatized by this experience and considers herself more dead than alive. Only her devotion to duty and to her country compels her to work as a Nadeshiko Tai, helping the young pilots who are part of the Tokko Tai, or kamikaze pilots who "body crash" into American naval ships. Hana whose name means flower is the blossom, like those the Nadeshiko gave to the pilots before their last flight.

Taro, whose life has revolved around music, has struggled to obtain the respect and  approval of his father, a pilot and an engineer. Taro's father views his son's passion for music as fruitless and believes he should become a pilot to bring honour to Japan and his family. This desire to gain his father's approval eventually leads Taro to join the army, become a pilot and then to make the drastic choice join the tokko tai. He will gain honour by offering his life as a suicide pilot. Taro is the firefly, a reference to a young girl whose pilot comes back once more to her at night in the form of a firefly.

As a young violinist, Taro was told he lacked mono no aware , the Japanese phrase referring to having a sense of empathy and understanding regarding the transience of life in his playing.  However, on a visit home to his mother, just before his first tokko mission and faced with his own mortality and his imminent certain death, Taro plays the Mozart piece that has always eluded him in a way that expresses both the joy of living and the sadness of leaving life behind. 

It is music that brings together Taro and Hana at Chiran: Taro while preparing for his last mission, Hana one of the Nadeshiko tending to him. Music heals, comforts and gives hope to both Taro and Hana. Hana encounters Taro when she hears him playing his violin and the gorgeous music brings her back to life. It is a moment of profound rebirth for her.
"I am standing in the doorway, listening to the lone musician, the boy with the black case in his duffel. He stands in the center of the barracks, playing a Western violin...
There was a moment when I was dead, swaddled in darkness, a moment of utter stillness. My ears were ringing because of the bomb, a constant hum, like the first note of creation. 
And then there was light.
Just a tiny dot of it, streaming in as if it were all the light in the universe.
And it grew. And grew.
Until there were fingers, hands, faces, and blue sky.
And voices screaming, 'She's here! She's alive!'
Now my ears ring with that first note once more. Through the doorway, dot of light. And fingers, hands, a face like the open sky, and music singing, I am here. I am alive."

Hana's rebirth continues when Taro offers her his violin as a token, just before his tokko mission. Hana who has never bothered to learn the names of any of the pilots she has served as a maid to, is suddenly entrusted with Taro's most prized possession.

When Hana hears Taro play in the barracks after his first failed flight her world opens even more. She begins to see people not in the context of war, but as real people. "This is what I see when I look at Taro: a young man, standing tall, a shining instrument of wood held confidently in his arm, like a dance partner, his chin resting on her shoulder...The girls are no longer Nadeshiko Tai, but schoolgirls, happy to clap and sing. The kitchen workers are no longer scullery maids and pot scrubbers, but men and women who have families, stories, songs of their own. I see tired people turned into human beings. I see a gray rainy day turned into sunshine. It surprises me, as if there is color in the world I have been blind to until now."

Similar to Hana after her traumatic experience of being buried alive, Taro who survives his first tokko mission feels the deep shame of failure and feels dead to the world. Taro is "not living, not dead....., little more than shadows on the borderlands of the spirit world..."  and  "dies" when his plane crashes on a beach and burns at the end of the war.  His deep shame at failing as tokko leaves him living a life of the dead. "It was only then that Taro realized how funereal his world had become. The dirt beneath his feet was below ground level. The entire barracks was a crypt, a roof over a grave. A stone hand reached out to choke him. His eyes burned." Even worse, the army doubts Taro's "moral fortitude. His devotion to his duty."

Hana and Taro's rebirth to the world of the living is finally concluded when both meet again two years after the war at the Yasukuni Shrine, a monument to the Japanese war dead in Tokyo. They both purify themselves at the Otemizusha font, Hana before she is to play, Taro after paying his respects to the dead. Hana is playing the koto just inside the third gate, the Shinmon Gate with her group. At the end of the day, Hana is sad. There are "Not glowing fireflies. No ghostly violin." Instead there is Taro.
Smith, in her Author's Note at the back of the novel writes that she was inspired to write this story after seeing a photograph online of, " A row of Japanese schoolgirls in dark middy blouses and shining bobbed haircuts stand smiling and waving at the edge of a runway. Their arms are full of cherry blossoms. Their eyes are on a departing fighter plane. It was black and white, the resolution poor, but the image struck me." This is how Smith learned about the Nadeshiko Unit girls of Chiran Junior High School in Japan. In the historical photograph shown in this blog post, taken from the World War 2 database, girls from the Nadeshiko Unit wave as Second Lieutenant Toshio Anazawa takes off on a suicide mission, leaving behind his fiance.

Smith realistically portrays living life during wartime and the psychological and emotional toll that can take. Hana has lived all her life under the shadow of war. Her dreams and plans for her life are on hold. When she and her friend Hisako are discussing their futures and their desire to finish their education and get a job, Hana vocalizes what years of war have meant to Japan. "I wish I had not said it. Not enough men. That means our fathers, brothers, friends, may not becoming home. But that has been the truth since we were little girls. since we were born I realize now. I have never known a time when Japan was at war."
 
Japanese 13-stringed koto.
The end of the war is no easier for Hana as she struggles to not only deal with Taro's likely death but to comprehend what defeat means for Japan. "The Emperor has been allowed to keep his Chrysanthemum Throne, but he has surrendered his divinity. As if one can simply agree to no longer be a descendant of Heaven. This is the new world we find ourselves in. The Emperor is merely a man. His generals and admirals are on trial for crimes against peace, against humanity, for crimes of war. I do not understand the accusations the Americans and their allies are levying in these trials. Imperially sanctioned rape, murder, and torture in foreign places."  This troubles Hana because her father was in a foreign country, China. Does this mean her father was part of this? It is something her mother refuses to even broach.  Japan during the war was "... boy pilots, bright buttons, and fresh faces full of Yamato-damashii" and tokko. Post war and American occupation, Hana now wonders what Japan is.

 The Blossom and the Firefly is an exquisite love story, one filled with loss,rebirth and hope.  Smith has captured the essence of Japanese culture, as well as the tragedy and consequences of war in this well written novel. One can't help but wonder at the many people who did not get a second chance like that given to Taro and Hana in a time of war.

Some interesting articles about the kamikaze attacks on the US Fifth Fleet
John Chapman and the Kamikaze Attack

koto image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koto_(instrument)#/media/File:Japanese_Koto.jpg


Book Details:

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri Smith
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons     2020
310 pp.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The year is 1961 and thirteen-year-old Lora is determined to her part in the Cuban revolution. Having ousted the U.S.-backed government of President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the new government led by Fidel Castro has mandated that Cuba will become a fully literate nation. Everyone who can read and write is directed to teach those who cannot.

Lora is determined to enlist, after seeing a poster in her high school but she needs the signature of her father and he is opposed to her participation. However, with the help of her modern thinking abuela, eventually her father relents and signs the papers. So Lora sets out, leaving behind her stricken parents, her beloved abuela and her two younger brothers, Silvio and Roberto. After writing her exams, Lora and the other students from her school travel to the Varadero training camp. Arriving at Varadero Beach,formerly a resort for wealthy tourists, Lora is stunned by its beauty.

Lora is to become part of the new Conrado Benitez Brigade, named after a young black literacy teacher murdered in the Escambray Mountains. She, along with the thousands of other young people are set up in luxurious hotel rooms set up as dorms. When she first arrives Lora meets Marissa who was a university student in Havana. Besides learning how to teach literacy, Lora and the others are taught basic first aid, and given lectures on agriculture. They will be not only teaching but working alongside the farmers and their families too.

Lora's training is interrupted when the United States launches an invasion in the Bay of Pigs. Many of the teachers and other leaders leave to join the battle and Lora's father soon arrives to take her home. But Lora courageously refuses telling him it would be like a soldier deserting. Eventually the Bay of Pigs invasion is over. Lora finishes her training and receives her uniform and equipment of a brigadista.

In April of 1961, Lora along with thirty other brigadistas take a bus south and then travel into the Escambray mountains in the back of a truck. They are dropped off in the middle of the forest where they meet up with Esteban their commander and his assistant Lillian, both accompanied by a soldier. Lora and the others, ten boys and twenty girls,are taken to their base camp. There they are divided into neighbourhood teams; Lora's team includes Juan and Maria. In their orientation, they are told to write their parents and keep a journal of their successes and failures.

Eventually Lora travels to meet her new family, Luis and Veronica Santana and their three children, Rafael, Emilia and Isabel. While Lora will be living with them, she will also attempt to teach the neighbouring Acosta family, comprised of an elderly couple and their son Daniel and his wife Nancy. At first the Acosta men are resistant to learning but Lora meets each challenge with grace and determination winning life long friends and succeeding in her mission.

Discussion

My Brigadista Year focuses on the beginning period of the Cuban revolution, and is told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old girl, spanning the years from 1958 to 1961. It carefully skirts the abuses of the Cuban revolution while highlighting the camaraderie of the Cuban people newly freed from the brutal Batista regime.Ironically the same abuses and violence committed by rebels hoping to defeat Castro and that Lora expresses horror over will be used by Castro to cement his control over Cuba.

Young readers will not find My Brigadista Year to be a realistic representation of life under the communist government led by Fidel Castro. In her Author's Note at the back, Paterson admits that her novel "is by no means meant to be a full or balanced account of all events occurring in Cuba in the year 1961. Fidel Castro committed many evils against his enemies, some of whom originally fought on his side for freedom from Batista but felt betrayed by actions of the new government when small farms were seized and innocent families relocated or put in camps. From 1959 until his death, Castro presided over a repressive regime, jailing and executing political opponents and sometimes even those considered allies, and denying ordinary Cuban citizens freedoms we Americans take for granted."

However, few children will likely read the Author's Note nor is it likely that teachers will read it to students either. So young readers will be left with the impression that the Cuban revolution was a necessary and positive development for Cuba and that young people were eager to join the brigadistas.The revolution occurs without much context as the focus is on one teenage girl who is not witness to the many abuses that occurred. For example, Lora only briefly mentions the closing of all religious schools and the conversion of them into national secular schools.

Thus, Lora is a highly idealized character, keen to do her part.  Lora's courage and dedication to both her mission and the families she is serving are uplifting. She is genuinely concerned for the families and forms a life-long bond with them. Her time in the mountains, helps her to understand the poor and eventually leads her to become a doctor. But as Paterson notes, "...the literacy campaign was not entirely staffed by idealistic volunteers like Lora. I understand that some families felt the pressure of potential reprisal for non-cooperation, and therefore, some young people might well have felt forced to join the campaign. As the year went on and the goal remained distant, schools were closed and teachers were also conscripted."

As Paterson shows in My Brigadista Year, the program also functioned to indoctrinate illiterate rural families in socialist and communist ideals. Reading material was mostly government propaganda and not classics or primers designed to simply teach reading and comprehension skills. For example, Lora mentions that the first image in the primer is of men connected to the OEA, the Organization of American States. The letters were to be used to not only teach vowels but also to explain how the United States was working to make sure "our revolution would fail."

Interestingly, My Brigadista Year subtly reveals  Lora's biases. When Lora wanted to attend an expensive high school in Havana, she had to decide whether to keep her abuela's beautiful heirloom gold earrings or sell them to "some arrogant, rich North American tourist". While it's unfortunate that she would have had to sell such a family treasure in order to attend a good school, her view of  all tourists as arrogant seems at the very least, unfair. Has Lora met many American tourists or is this just what she's been told? It may be that tourists to Cuba in the 1950's were arrogant but they also brought much needed money into the Cuban economy. And many people all over the world make extreme sacrifices far greater than selling a pair of earrings, to attend school.

The same can be said of Lora's view of nuns whom she seems to particularly dislike. In a flashback to her beginning high school Lora notes, "Many of the nuns who taught us had degrees from England and Europe.Our French maestra had a degree from the Sorbonne University, in Paris, and the Sister who taught English had graduated from Oxford University, in England. They were scholars, and, if I may say so, not as humble as you might imagine a nun to be." Lora describes the nuns clothing as "dressed head to toe in medieval habits."  Paterson employs a trope common in literature, that of the mean, heartless nun. In this novel, the messages are clear: rich people are arrogant and religious people are uncaring, old fashioned and lacking in humility. Perhaps in light of current events, these are today's "acceptable biases"?

My Brigadista Year interestingly does mention the prejudice that exists in Cuba and many  countries regarding skin colour. Lora has a new friend, Norma whose dark skin indicates her likely African heritage. Lora notes that her mother likely would not approve of her dark-skinned friend and she is certain that Norma experienced prejudice from their classmates based on the colour of her skin. Lora herself experiences this prejudice when she returns home from her brigadista assignment and is deeply tanned, noting that her mother refrained from making any comments until much later.


Paterson's Epilogue, where Lora as an adult describes her life in very positive terms, encourages young readers not to judge her country. "My country is not perfect, but then is yours?" The question seems to suggest that communism is simply another form of government with good and bad points. But is it? History from the 20th century shows that this is not so.

Book Details:

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
Somerville, Mass.     2017
198 pp.