Humanity

rose-1273740_1920The atrocity in Orlando, Florida has brought forth a question that frequently arises each time evil rears its ugly head. I’ve addressed it in some of my fiction and poetry, but I’m writing it straight out in case it may be too esoteric for some to decipher in a time when the need for clarity is urgent.

What’s become of humanity?

This question once made me wonder long and hard, figuring people have somehow devolved over time. Yet, the more I analyzed the landscape of the human condition, I the more I realized that at its basic level, humanity is just as it’s always been. We build. We grow. We collide. We destroy. After all, humanity is a derivative of a universe that in its very nature is violent, mysterious, yet efficient at constantly expanding and creating. From a scientific standpoint we are kin to the blazing celestial bodies that set the velvet sky ablaze at night.

With that in mind, it makes sense that humans share the same characteristics as the stars; we’re born, we shine for a time, we burn out, but some go supernova, leaving a black hole in the hearts of many. Some allow this hole to expand and consume them until all they know is darkness and hatred. Others patch the void with light and hope. It may shrink, but it never fully heals. Collectively, we persevere since that is also in our nature. The universe never ceases and neither does humanity.

While we share many remarkable traits with the stars, there’s some anomaly (or blessing, if you will) that makes humans vastly unique from our celestial cousins. It is the gift of consciousness, the gift of choice to determine whether to build or destroy, to grow mentally and emotionally or remain stunted. It is the gift that endows us with the capacity to love while enduring the unfathomable. It is the same gift that presents us with the opportunity to steer our own destinies, to become more than inert fragments of the universe, hurtling toward destruction. It is a gift that humanity undervalues far too often, yet each day we awaken, it remains there just waiting for us to utilize it. And therein lies hope.

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ROOTS Review

 

ROOTS isn’t a film one watches for enjoyment or entertainment, but for enlightenment and perspective. This was true for the original and doubly so for the remake, which is much more graphic and intense. Some have argued, perhaps too graphic. Though there are scenes I could have gone without watching, I believe the right decisions were made given the current scope of our society. Audiences aren’t nearly as guarded as they were back in the 70s. Today, there is a lot more exposure to graphic violence and gore across various media platforms. So in many ways, the presentation speaks to the world in a language that is well understood and has maximum impact.

Having seen the original ROOTS, I knew I was in for an intense emotional journey from the jump. I settled in and braced myself as the title screen emerged to Alex Haley’s narration (voiced by Laurence Fishburne), which contained the poignant line:

“The two most important days of a man’s life is the day he is born, and when he understands why.”

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Babs Olusanmokun as Omoro Kinte

Shortly thereafter Omoro Kinte (Babs Olusanmokun) appears and meets such an understanding—his newborn son, Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby). There is a palpable love and tenderness as the proud parents, Omoro and Binta (Nokuthula Ledwaba) revel in their son’s presence, the air filled with Binta’s soothing and haunting lullaby that would later comfort Kunta in the long days ahead, no doubt filling him with bittersweet nostalgia of simpler times. Omoro holds his newborn son up towards the starry sky and declares:

“Behold! The only thing greater than you!”

It is an act that would reverberate halfway across the world through succeeding generations long after an adolescent Kunta is sold into slavery by a rival clan shortly after completing his rite of passage. Malachi Kirby proves himself a capable and outstanding actor who gives Kunta Kinte great depth, dimension and fire. Kunta’s capture comes shortly after a debate with his parents. He wants to attend university, they want him to adhere to the tradition Mandinka way of life—in which family is paramount.

What follows is an unflinching glimpse of some of the hardships slaves endured during the Middle Passage. Shame, depression, and eventual defiance come over the captured men and women. They plan a mutiny to the harmonic cadence of song and the fervent beating of a drum. A violent crescendo erupts, but is brought to a halt with a single, yet devastating blast. Once on land, Kunta is quickly sold to a plantation owner.

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Malachi Kirby & Forest Whitaker as Kunta and Fiddler

Kunta struggles to adjust to the turn his life has taken, yet his defiance remains constant. Having been taken away from all he knows he clings to his birth name like a shield when the slave owners try to replace it. While it strengthens his dignity, it does nothing to protect his flesh in a reenactment of the iconic scene LeVar Burton made memorable in the original production.

Malachi Kirby had big shoes to fill and did an outstanding job in conveying the transition from steadfast rebel to a fractured spirit. This part earned the most tears from me, not just because of the sheer brutality, but also the symbolism used to convey his fading identity, which he later maintains covertly.

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Kirby & Corinealdi as Kunta and Belle

As the years elapse, Kunta isn’t easily deterred and makes several attempts to flee, and even gets far enough to join the British and fight the Americans in the Revolutionary War before his ability to run is literally severed. He finds love with Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the woman who heals him and eventually finds himself on the path of fulfilling his Mandinka destiny in spite of bondage. The Kinte line expands with the birth of his daughter Kizzy, played by (Saniyya Sidney, Emyri Crutchfield, ), to whom he passes down his warrior skills.

Kizzy, a spirited young girl, develops a close friendship with the slave master’s daughter, who teaches her to read and write. Yet, it remains clear that fiery possessiveness lurks beneath Missy’s charity and kindness. This plays out several times, including during their curious adolescent years when Missy states “It’s my right,” referring to her desire to indulge her curiosity regarding the appearance of Kizzy’s womanhood. It’s an unsettling three-word declaration that will later return to haunt, and nearly destroy, Kizzy after she is sold to slave owner Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

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Regé-Jean Page as Chicken George

The Kinte bloodline expands anew, via the devastating circumstances Tom inflicts upon her. Their son, Chicken George (Regé-Jean Page), grows to train Tom’s roosters for cockfights. He eventually marries and fathers several children before he is eventually blindsided and sent to England as payment for Tom’s gambling debt.

By the time he returns, twenty years have elapsed and his mother Kizzy (Anika Noni Rose) is dead, his children all grown, some with kids of their own. His wife is weary, yet relieved. In another parallel to Kunta’s life, George heads off to the Civil War to help fight against the Confederates alongside Cyrus (T.I.). Meanwhile, his son Tom (Sedale Threatt, Jr.) assists Nancy Holt (Anna Paquin), fiance and spy against Confederate soldier Frederick Murray (Lane Garrison), son of the current slave owner of George’s family. Nancy and her mute accomplice are killed for their treachery. Even after the Union wins the war, and the slaves were said to be free, they still had to endure loopholes and opposition set forth by those unwilling to let go of the power and way of life to which they’d grown accustomed.

Threatt Jr. & Paquin as Tom Murray & Nancy Holt

Threatt Jr. & Paquin as Tom Murray & Nancy Holt

The final moments of this spectacular four-day journey brings viewers full circle with the birth of Tom’s child, the first to be born free. Tom inquires how to name his daughter the right way, seeking to follow the tradition of his forefathers. As the scene fades, the late Alex Haley, seated at his desk, reflects on his ancestors, who appear before him against the backdrop of their respective eras. The boundaries of time dissolve as Haley joins them all in the great beyond. Powerful, profound, breathtaking, and devastatingly beautiful.

ROOTS has led me to ponder the heartbreak that befell, and is currently befalling, so many families around the globe as a result of slavery; a crisis that’s still very much alive today. It successfully conveyed the aftershock of devastation endured by those no longer alive to tell their tales. This production was met with much controversy. It has been said that the topic of slavery is being used to further oppress the descendants of those who endured it. Upon watching ROOTS from beginning to end, I was reminded that my ancestors endured subhuman treatment with superhuman strength and that such strength is carried on through the succeeding generations, including the present. Though my spirit weeps for what my ancestors went through, I feel empowered by their immense fortitude.

The aim of LeVar Burton, Mark Wolper, and their team was for this incarnation of ROOTS to inspire a national discussion about the topic, especially since our culture is still experiencing the same hate and ignorance that contributed to the profitability and popularity of slavery. I believe they’ve succeeded.

 

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Roots Reboot: Controversy and Consciousness

 

“No more slave movies!”

That was one declaration among the commentary I’ve seen in response to the Roots remake announcement. I’ve also come across comments calling for a protest of A&E and its sister networks (History, and Lifetime) which will air the miniseries on Memorial Day evening. Personally, I feel that it’s unfair for one to discourage others from watching something based on their own disapproval.

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“Kunta Kinte: Past and Present,” by Shykia Bell

It’s not unusual for people scoff at the notion of a film or show being remade. Perhaps it’s because so often it doesn’t do justice to the original. In that regard, it’s no surprise that the announcement of the Roots remake was met with uncertainty and in some cases outright disapproval. There are some whom are loyal to the original, which became a classic back when it was released in 1977. Conversely, there are those who oppose to the reboot for a multitude of reasons—most notably, the fact that slavery has been the primary topic when it comes to the exploration of black history.

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Original Kunta Kinte, LeVar Burton

There are also those whom are critical of the original, citing the fact that the source material—Roots the novel by Alex Haley—was a combination of fact and fiction, something Haley, himself had admitted. Given that Roots will air on the History channel, it’s apparent that some people are disappointed that any amount of fiction will make its way to History Channel’s airwaves. Yet, I think it’s worth mentioning that Roots isn’t the first piece of historical fiction to be broadcast on the History Channel. Sons of Liberty is one such program that falls under that category, not to mention the reality-based shows that aren’t entirely historical, if at all.

That said, the revamp of Roots is timely and relevant for many reasons, including the broadening divide in today’s culture, particularly within—and as a result of—the current political climate as well as the rampant racial injustice still festering within. While a certain presidential candidate proclaims that they want to make “America Great Again,” and one of his rivals has countered that “America has never stopped being great,” an important part of history seems to be getting loss in the cracks. While America is a great country and there is no place else I’d rather live, it hasn’t always been great for everyone. To insinuate otherwise is to take an eraser to this country’s past, leaving a void in which we’ll inevitably revisit by way of ignorance.

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LeVar Burton with Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte

I’ve already seen examples of how historical lessons are being candy coated for our future generation; in one case, students were taught that Africans came to this country in pursuit of a better life. This in itself is indicative of the need to continue to tell stories like Roots.

Though some may argue that it isn’t completely factual, it nevertheless serves a purpose to generate an interest in this segment of not just black history, but American history. Films like Roots aren’t meant to be the sole form of education about this sensitive topic, but rather a catalyst to inspire viewers to delve deeper into history and perhaps learn something about themselves along the way. Sometimes, artistic license is taken in order to achieve that aim by telling the story in a way that translates well to modern audiences in the allotted running time, just as director Steve McQueen did with 12 Years a Slave.

It’s been a long time since I saw the original Roots, but it has stuck with me up until now. So, when I first heard the news of the remake I had some mixed feelings at first. Yet, when I learned that LeVar Burton and Mark Wolper—son of David L. Wolper, who directed the original—were at the helm, co-producing the project, I immediately had faith that the remake would be handled with the utmost respect. Both men have clearly expressed their passion and dedication to the project and I look forward to seeing the results of all the work they, the cast, and crew, undoubtedly put into it.

In closing, I would like to state that while I agree that there should be equal focus on the era that predated African and African American slavery, there needs to be a viral demand to have such stories represented in the mainstream. This is a topic I plan to address in a future blog post.

For further reading about the impending premiere and to gain insight into the minds of the cast and producers, I recommend the following articles:

‘Roots’: Cast & Producers Talk Relevance to Today (Deadline Hollywood)

‘Roots,’ Remade for New a Era (New York Times)

 

What is your opinion about the Roots remake? Do you plan to tune in?

 

 

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Banned Books Week Highlight: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

HeLa

Medical advancements are often a derivative of the suffering of others. And often, society reaps the benefits without knowing the names or histories of those who made it possible for us to treat and avoid certain medical conditions. A 16-year-old Rebecca Skloot understood this when one day during a biology class when the topic of HeLa cells were being taught. In conclusion of the lesson, the name of a woman was written on the blackboard and soon erased. No other information was given, except that she was a black woman.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks.

Skloot was immediately intrigued and in her words, obsessed, with learning more about Henrietta. From that moment she was determined to research more about this mystery woman and subsequently ensure that she wouldn’t just remain a footnote in history. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the culmination of roughly a decade-long journey that entailed tireless work, including the delicate matter of reaching out to Henrietta’s next of kin. Skloot inevitably encountered challenges along the way, but persevered. And speaking of challenges…

This book has recently been challenged by a Tennessee mother of a 15-year-old high school sophomore who deemed the book “pornographic.” Having read the work, including the so-called offending passages, this strikes me as preposterous for a number of reasons. First, although the description is vivid in detail it is mainly informative and not at all written with the intent to arouse. Secondly, the mention of Henrietta’s husband’s infidelity and resulting venereal diseases is just that, a mention. Thirdly, this day in age the average 15-year-old picks up more offensive language and spectacle on the street or by watching the VMAs. I certainly don’t think the accounts briefly mentioned in the book is enough to justify depriving readers from learning the once buried history of one of the most important contributors to modern science.

Henrietta’s cells (HeLa cells) aided scientists in cancer and AIDS research, gene mapping, Polio vaccine development, and various other scientific endeavors. Though the medical advancements achieved with the HeLa cells are celebrated all over the world, the road to scientific victory has a checkered history peppered with injustice and immorality. Skloot highlights some of the experiments used on terminally ill patients and the details read like a horror story, mainly because in many ways it is.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks happens to be one of my most recent reads and one of the most informative books I’ve come across in years. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of Ms. Lacks or her contributions medical industry which subsequently saved countless lives. Sometimes I take for granted how crude medical treatments were over half a century ago. Add to this the factor of racial segregation and inequality and the situation becomes even more complicated.

The book repeatedly toggles between Skloot’s research and communication with Henrietta’s family; Henrietta’s upbringing, life as a young adult, illness, treatment, and subsequent death. The transitions between these sections are a little jumpy at times, but are nonetheless full of detail and provide great insight into the process of cellular biomechanics. And though the scientific details are as informative as a textbook, it is offset by the novel-like descriptions and anecdotes about Henrietta, her family and friends. The latter is done with such intimacy that I couldn’t help but empathize with Henrietta and her family as though I knew them personally.

Skloot was very thorough in her research and did an outstanding job sharing the rich history she learned about Henrietta, including her ancestry and the turbulent history regarding her descendants. I think every adult should read this book since they’ve more than likely reaped the benefits derived from Henrietta’s unwitting medical contributions.

Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? If so, feel free to comment below with your thoughts.

This blog entry concludes my banned/challenged book highlights in honor of Banned Book Week, which continues through October 3rd. Here’s a link in case you missed my previous banned book highlight, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

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Banned Books Week Highlight: The Bluest Eye

 

The-Bluest-Eye

Pecola Breedlove is a tragic character who lives a tortured life both at the hands of family as well as her peers. She covets blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair, figuring that having such traits would make her beautiful. Pecola was, and remains, a highly relatable character thanks in large part to media perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards.

Yet, The Bluest Eye is so much more than a story of one girl’s desire to look different. There is a devastating underlying reason that sparks such a desire, one that exposed the damage an infectious disease such as racism has on American culture, particularly black American culture. It haunts the reader’s mind long after the final passage is read.

The Bluest Eye, set in Ohio after the Great Depression, is certainly not an easy read due to the novel’s strong subject matter and graphic elements. In it, Toni Morrison unflinchingly tackles the issues of racism and the resulting poor self-esteem among black girls and the damaging repercussions it has especially when paired with the devastating occurrence of mental and sexual abuse. The story is primarily narrated by Claudia MacTeer, with whose family Pecola temporarily resides.

There is an interesting dichotomy between Pecola and Claudia from the very beginning. Claudia loathes the “beauty” Pecola covets. This stems from an unfavorable experience with a doll that Claudia grows to hate and soon she superimposes this hate on the very people the doll was modelled from, and for; White girls. This hatred is her coping mechanism for the fact that society considers features, like that which the doll was modelled after, more beautiful than that of girls like Claudia and, of course, Pecola.

The brilliant juxtaposition of each section of the story with excerpts from the children’s book Dick and Jane clashes with the harsh reality of impoverished black America. Each time the excerpt is repeated, it appears increasingly run on, without space, without order; mirroring the mounting chaos the Claudia witnesses and Pecola endures.

The recurring theme of tarnished innocence at the hands of adults who have betrayed children’s trust makes The Bluest Eye one of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. There are so many damaged girls like Pecola in reality. And like Pecola, some just don’t have the fight in them (perhaps due to being programmed to think that their appearance makes them inferior and less of a human), and so they crumble. In the end, Pecola struggles to use a juvenile perception of love to rationalize the ultimate injustice she’s suffered. I admit, that last part took a while for me to digest since it’s as disturbing as it is tragic.

I first read this novel in high school and it continues to resonate with me even now. Shamefully, so many years after The Bluest Eye was published, the ridiculous correlation between one’s appearance and degree of beauty continues to this day. For that reason, and for many others—including the disenfranchisement of certain societal groups and the subsequent fallout—this novel remains a relevant classic.

Have you read The Bluest Eye? If so, leave a comment with your thoughts. I’d love to read your opinion.

Please check back tomorrow for my next banned/challenged book selection. In case you missed my last one, click here to read my impression of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

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Banned Books Week Highlight: Nineteen Eighty-Four

 

1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in a province in Oceania in a time of endless war where widespread government surveillance is commonplace. Society is ruled under a political system known as Ingsoc, or English Socialism enforced by the elite Inner Party which enjoys special privileges. The laws they enforce include the prevention and discouragement of individuality and independent thought.

Part of their arsenal include the Ministry of Truth, which the main character Winston Smith works for. The Ministry of Truth is a contradiction in terms since its main purpose is to generate propaganda and constantly revise history.

Winston, whose job is to rewrite past news articles to make sure the Party never appears incompetent or incorrect in its promises or assessments. Winston, though skilled (perhaps overly so) and efficient at his job, hates the government and fantasizes about a rebellion. Yet, his fantasy clashes with his fascination to learn the truth behind all the rewritten historical articles he’s been writing. Such desires are dangerous, especially if they were to be discovered by the Thought Police, who’s been known to punish defiance with death. Nonetheless, Winston can’t resist his yearning and so begins a chilling adventure that promises romance, mystery and misery, but what truths will he uncover?

Like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four is definitely one of the books that stayed with me the most. I occasionally think about it when seeing how technology divides as well as connects. Some critics lambasted the cruel and sexual elements included in the novel and I can understand why this would have been challenged in the era in which it was written. I believe it was Orwell’s intention to disturb readers by underscoring humanity’s most primitive instincts that arise when faced with the deprivation of individual choice; instincts that spark the desire to rebel and seek out methods of self-preservation. Just as disturbing, perhaps even more so, is the government’s way of dealing with individuals whom are bold enough to act out and how easily it rationalizes its extreme measures. This becomes evident in the heartbreaking conclusion, the culmination of a series of cruel mind games.

Still, there is no denying the grander prophetic message beyond those elements; that message being how the media manipulates public opinion and creates a social dichotomy that includes friends and family. The public is brainwashed to form a greater loyalty to the powers that be than to their own loved ones. Furthermore, they are manipulated into hating a certain political party’s enemies and their affiliates, namely a man named Emmanuel Goldstein, in a ritual called the Two Minutes of Hate. During one such session, Winston finds himself unable to rationalize why he hates Goldstein, but nonetheless spews his hatred as a contagious reaction from the crowd. Furthermore, he finds another target for his hatred and imagines committing a heinous offense, but he doesn’t act on it.

Orwell brilliantly depicted the disturbing human nature of pack mentality. A recurring theme is how citizens sacrificed their own convictions, among other things, in exchange for compliance. For the most part, citizens have learned to ignore their human instincts and desires so they can continue their existence. But Winston soon realizes that merely existing isn’t enough. He takes chances for the opportunity to live. Through his defiance, he’s able to sample the sweet taste of humanity, but it comes at a price that threatens his survival and the woman he grows to care for.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe this book was written back in 1948. Many elements of the story are prevalent in our society today; the confusing spin of propaganda, extremely unruly and downright horrible children whose parents are afraid of due to government interference regarding discipline. For this reason, children are among the most allegiant to Big Brother, Oceania’s mysterious leader, since the government gives them liberty to rebel against their parents. And who could forget Big Brother’s oppressive eye; the omnipresence of cameras, watching every minute detail of the citizens’ lives. Any sign of deviation from the law could lead to the torture or death of the offending citizen. One of the most disturbing parts of Nineteen Eighty-Four is how one’s own independent intelligence could lead to their undoing. It’s one of the tactics that has led to the establishment’s success; getting people too confused and too afraid to think.

Have you read Nineteen Eighty-Four? If so, please comment below. I’d love to read your opinion.

Join me as I highlight my next banned/challenged book selection, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

Click here if you missed my last post in which I highlighted The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

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Banned Books Week Highlight: The Master and Margarita

MasterMargaritaMikhail Bulgakov was defiant to say the least. He wrote The Master and Margarita between 1928 and 1940, during the anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t published until 1967, twenty-seven years after Bulgakov’s death, and was censored even then. To this day, I’m sure some may be intimidated by the novel’s dark themes and the fact that the devil, himself, is one of the main characters. Yet, there is a subtext that goes far beyond the plot’s macabre and mischievous elements. Master and Margarita is a rich tale of love, reluctant duty and subsequent guilt, a critique of social, political and literary elitism, and the mercy of amnesty.

The novel’s rich, multi-layered plot is interwoven with history, religion and politics and shifts between two settings; 1930’s Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s court in Judea.

In Moscow, a mysterious stranger named Professor Woland strolls through Patriarch’s Ponds and overhears a young poet and an editor contemplating philosophy and the existence of Jesus. He takes interest and contributes to the discussion. What he has to say has the pair questioning his sanity…then their own. It quickly becomes evident that Woland is much more than he appears, and dangerously so. It is a fact that leads to the demise of one member of the intellectual pair, but not before he speaks of Pontius Pilate and the execution of Jesus (Yeshua Ha-Notsri) as though he were there at the time. Soon, Woland’s entourage—a valet, a hitman, a witch, and a talking, vodka swigging, gun-toting black cat who walks on two legs—emerges. Madness ensues and the city is turned upside down as Woland torments the residents by using their own vices against them.

Woland’s path intersects with a tormented author known as The Master (whose novel about Pontius Pilate was harshly judged by critics even though it was rejected for publishing) and his lover, Margarita, who happens to be unhappily married. Prior to Woland’s arrival the lovers were torn apart by The Master’s depression following the attack on his work. Margarita is distraught when the Master suddenly vanishes. She accepts a dubious proposition from the mysterious stranger in hopes of learning more regarding her lover’s whereabouts. Margarita undergoes a bizarre transformation as well as a cruel test that only true love could give one the tenacity to endure.

This storyline is interwoven with what is essentially The Master’s book brought to life; the unfolding of Pontius Pilate’s trial of Yeshua. Through his interrogations, Pilate comes to realize that Yeshua is not a mere criminal.  He becomes intrigued by the prisoner who knows personal details about him. His fascination grows after Yeshua heals his severe headache and correctly assesses his emotional state. Pilate becomes conflicted when he is forced to confirm the prisoner’s death sentence. Bound by his duty, and his fear of taking Yeshua’s place should he not comply, he reluctantly follows what has been requested of him. Despite having washed his hands of the matter, he is nonetheless haunted by guilt for hundreds of years.  In the end, both storylines converge for a conclusion that is poignant and powerful.

Master and Margarita is the kind of book one could read multiple times and get something new out of it. I admire Bulgakov’s ability to satirize government policy and literary critics while prompting the reader to consider theological philosophy. He achieves this with an intriguingly balanced combination of romance, comedy and horror. I first read this novel over twelve years ago and admit that with age, maturity, and a firmer grasp of Russian culture, I’ve grown to better comprehend and appreciate its remarkable depth.

Have you read The Master and Margarita? If so, feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section.

Click here to check out my next banned book selection,  Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

 

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Banned Books Week Highlight: Fahrenheit 451

 

Fahrenheit 451In a world where speed, noise and the latest in technology and entertainment supersedes compassion for one’s fellow man, how is it possible to preserve the essence of what makes us human?

How much of life do we truly experience through a filter of ones and zeroes?

How accurate is society’s reflection through media portrayal?

These are some of the questions Fahrenheit 451 inspires. The novel, written in 1953, explored the possibility of an ironic societal disconnection and a grim evolution of humanity, brought about by advanced technology and the abandonment of the pastimes that once added depth to human existence. Eerily enough, the contemplation this novel stimulates only grows more pertinent with time as our own technology continues to advance at an astounding rate.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a fast-paced society in which books are banned (and burned) and mindless entertainment is celebrated. Books aren’t the only treasures in jeopardy. The very aspects of knowledge, curiosity, and imagination are also on the pyre, waiting to be ignited. Life and happiness are as frail as the paper within the books that Montag and his fellow firemen (whose jobs aren’t to put out fires, but to set books alight) are tasked to burn into oblivion. Yet, according to society, life couldn’t be better or more exciting, even if the citizens can’t specifically pinpoint what makes them happy other than frivolous entertainment and empty conversations, that is, whenever people actually spoke to one another.

Montag soon finds himself conflicted when his curiosity is ignited by the very object he’s tasked to destroy. It’s not long before his curiosity puts him in danger and makes him a target for his comrades.

After revisiting Fahrenheit 451, I was reminded why the story remains a classic and Ray Bradbury a literary legend. I saw the world transform through Montag’s eyes and eventually it became obvious that it isn’t the world that changed, but rather his perspective of it. In many ways Fahrenheit 451, written in 1953, was prophetic and foreshadowed the emphasis of technology that is prevalent today. The situation between Montag and his wife Mildred is frustrating and tragic. The pair live in close proximity and yet couldn’t be further apart, as demonstrated by the fact that neither can recall how they met. And when tragedy befalls Montag’s eccentric nature-loving friend, Clarisse, who helped spark his curiosity, the news is nonchalantly broken to him as an afterthought.

This novel is so far ahead of its time. Keep in mind, it was written nearly four decades before the internet was created. Fahrenheit 451 is frighteningly similar to the shallow, self-absorbed reality in which we currently live. On a grand scale society is connected by technology, but are growing increasingly apathetic to anything that doesn’t affect them directly. Things have gotten so fast-paced that society has spawned generations of citizens who don’t have the patience to process their own feelings, and so they act out. Individuals are so easily upset, particularly by those with opinions that contradict their own. It leads me to wonder if someday it will truly become a social crime to exchange ideas and opinions at all, much like in Bradbury’s prophetic tale. Some days, it seems like we’re damn near halfway there.

Still, I hope that enough people remain conscious and that those who have become ensnared in the rapid pace of technology will eventually awaken as Montag did. I also hope that the Clarisses of the world hold onto their fascination with the simple joys of life, such as the sensation of a raindrop.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts about Fahrenheit 451 in the comments. I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for my next banned/challenged book selection.

 

 

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Banned Books Week

censorship-610101_1280The written word wields remarkable power. It can shape and sway the minds of readers. So, it’s no surprise that every so often comes a time when the powers that be deems a work of literature too taboo for the eyes of society. Usually, such works prompt the reader to reconsider the status quo, be it social, theological or political. They sometimes spark awareness, igniting a public appeal for change. The authors of such literature stuck to their guns and took chances where few others would dare. It’s never an easy thing, voicing one’s opinion in the face of political correctness and imposed propriety, especially when it means going against the grain. On some levels, the same holds true today.

September 27, 2015 through October 3, 2015 marks the 33rd annual Banned Books Week. I’ve put together a brief series in honor of the occasion. Over the next several days I’ll be highlighting five banned/challenged books (in no particular order) that have left a memorable impression in my mind. Today, I’ll begin with a sci-fi classic; Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

 

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Summer’s Last Dance

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The beach clears, the painterly sky darkens, muted pastels fading.
The vast ocean crashes into the surf, its waves now too cold for wading.
Stragglers linger, some hand-in-hand, and stroll the crumbling boardwalk,
Some cuddle close, sheltered from the wind, lips much too busy to talk.

They witness Summer’s last dance,
she twirls and kicks up sand,
Seagulls squawk their serenade,
As they hover above the land.

A vague rainbow is on the horizon,
It’s smeared across the sky.
Like rouge running down Summer’s face,
As though she doesn’t want to die.

Her moves become erratic,
Her sultry shimmy becomes a shiver,
She grows even colder when,
the sunlight becomes a sliver.

Cool amber leaves emerge,
from sands of burning ember,
As Summer takes her last bow
On this day in late September.

The silence is soon broken,
Something stirs on the beach,
A familiar presence approaches,
Just within my reach.

Notes of spice and cinnamon,
Waft through the salty air
As it wraps around me,
I know that she’s still there.

Its embrace is familiar,
And I know once and for all,
Summer didn’t die, really,
She just stumbled into Fall.

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