This was a random buy, picked up mostly because, flipping through it, the word Tasmania caught my eye - and then I read that the author is Australian....moreThis was a random buy, picked up mostly because, flipping through it, the word Tasmania caught my eye - and then I read that the author is Australian. For purely nostalgic reasons I just had to read it.
Amal is a year 11 student in her third term at a posh private school in Melbourne. She's also Muslim. An only child, her parents are health-care professionals, she has a large extended family and friends from all backgrounds and religions. Before third term begins, she decides she's ready to wear the hijab "full-time". She doesn't come to this decision lightly - okay, so an episode of Friends helped - but she's sixteen and there are some serious repercussions to her decision. Like, the stereotyping and insults she'll get at school, and trouble finding a job. It's 2001, before the attack on the Twin Towers, but prejudice has been a part of her life for a long time already.
Her friends Eileen and Simone stick by her and don't see her any differently, and after a few days, the boy she has a crush on, Adam, starts talking to her again. Her friends from the Islamic school she used to go to, Leila and Yasmeen, are different kinds of Muslim again - Leila is incredibly smart and wants to be a lawyer, but her mother is uneducated and comes from a traditional background, and keeps bringing eligible men over for Leila to marry, while Yasmeen has no intention of wearing the hijab at all.
A great many stereotypes and misconceptions are confronted, questioned and explored in this humorous book. Amal's voice is natural and believable, and her story is an open window onto what many young Muslims deal with - and others. Her elderly neighbour, Mrs Vaselli, has estranged herself from her only child when he converted to Jehovah's Witness; Josh has certain Jewish traditions to contend with; Adam's mother left when he was young without so much as a word - all he gets are postcards on his birthday. Eileen's Japanese parents have their own expectations of her, and Simone's mum constantly tells her she has to lose weight if she ever wants boys to notice her. There's a whole gamut of what teens go through and put up with in this book, and it may sound like it would be crowded, but it's not. It may seem kinda pushy and too in-your-face, too, but it's handled with both delicacy and Amal's flair which gives things a very fresh look.
Aside from teen issues, the racial and religious prejudices are equally visible, appearing in many subtle and overt ways. I particularly loved the conversation between Amal and the school president, Lara, after 9/11 - Lara wants her to give a speech on the topic of Islam and terrorism, mistakingly making the connection, as many did/do, that since she's Muslim Amal must therefore understand why they did what they did. Her response was excellent:
"You're Christian, right?" "...Yeah... what's that got to do with anything?" "OK, well I'll give the speech if you give a speech about the Ku Klux Klan." (p256)
That Abdel-Fattah had an agenda in writing this book is obvious, and quite welcome too. It's a book that needed to be written. Some of it shocked me - the misconceptions and attitudes, I couldn't believe Australians - anyone - would think, say and do those things. But of course they do. It's a balanced approach, though - Leila's family shows that there are some who fulfill negative expectations, though the emphasis is made on the difference between Islamic teachings and cultural traditions, which are often confused by some Muslims themselves, like Leila's mother. Amal's parents are always encouraging her to see other people's perspectives and understand them better, where they are coming from and why they say and think as they do.
It's a quick read, and entertaining, and Amal is a great character. It's written well, over the space of a few months, and really engages you to think, question yourself, and react. A great book for teens and adults alike - and one Rosalind Wiseman should definitely add to her glossary of books to read at the back of Queen Bees & Wannabes.
I have only two issues: firstly, this edition. There's a reason why I don't like Scholastic books. Namely, they're cheaply put together, the pages are crinkled and they start to fall out. If you can get hold of a different edition, you should get it instead.
The second is the translation. You've heard me rant and rage about this before, but here's a prime example of Americanising a text until it's virtually unrecognisable. Even though there were familiar place names like Bridge Road and Luna Park (I used to live not far from St. Kilda, in Elwood - beautiful suburb!), so much had been changed I often forgot it was set in Melbourne at all. If something can be depersonalised, this book has been de-place-ised! It was so jarring I actually wrote the changes down - and the words that hadn't been changed, which was sometimes even stranger.
Aussie word: --- Changed to: serviette --- napkin primary school --- elementary school tram --- streetcar kilograms --- pounds ABC/SBS --- PBS (not available in Australia) biscuit --- cookie grade/year 11 --- eleventh grade rubbish bin --- trash can milk bar/corner shop --- convenience store mum --- mom maths --- math roundabout --- traffic circle university/uni --- college car park --- parking lot pedestrian crossing --- crosswalk 000 --- 911 fringe --- bangs plait --- braid take away --- take-out mobile (phone) --- cell phone nappy --- diaper 4WD/four-wheel-drive --- SUV thongs --- flip-flops chilli --- chilli pepper rubbish --- garbage
I don't want to know what would happen if a tourist, needing urgent help, was to dial 911 in Australia, but changing it in books is not doing anyone any favours. I actually think it's irresponsible and dangerous - and who couldn't figure out, at least from context, what was meant by "000"?? Also, changing "ABC documentary" (or SBS) to PBS really jolted me - I'd never even heard of PBS before moving to Canada; we certainly don't get any US channels!
Also, they put in some brand names we don't have, like Chips Ahoy, Q-Tips (which are commonly called ear buds or cotton buds) - I'm sure they would have changed "Vegemite" if they could have! They put in "medical school" and "pre-law" instead of ... whatever they replaced - in Australia, both law and medicine are offered as undergrad degrees, medicine is an 8-year degree, law 4. In short, I don't think you'd actually learn anything much about Australia from this book.
Curiously enough, there were some words they didn't change, including: four-wheel-drive (they used this once, and in another place changed it to "SUV" - a slip?) doughnuts beanie mince wuss (maybe not as Aussie as I thought?) veggies lollipop lady fish and chips
Plus a couple of cultural references, such as Luna Park, Women's Weekly and Home and Away. Having been dislocated from the country itself by all the other changes, seeing these words made me even more confused. I wish they'd just leave well enough alone!!
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afra...more**some spoilers**
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh" (Voltaire). A deceptively slim-looking book (but one that is absolutely heavenly to hold - no pun intended - with it's glossy floppy cover and delicate leaves), Lamb is, as the title says, the (fictional) story of Christ's childhood as told by his best friend Levi who is called Biff.
Now, Moore doesn't mention Monty Python anywhere, but I'd wager he's seen Life of Brian. Whether he liked it, got it or appreciated it, I couldn't say, but it's a possible inspiration. It doesn't have the clever wit or irony, or the sheer genius of Brian, but it does have the irreverant humour. That aside, Lamb is a great story, made up but oddly plausible.
Keeping to the "known" facts and not interested in questioning your faith in any grand or cynical way, Lamb is told by Biff, resurrected today by an angel so he can write down his version of events. Given the gift of tongues, Biff writes it in contemporary American idiom, which saves the story from being dry and boring. He claims to have invented sarcasm, and encourages Joshua (later Jesus) to have a sense of humour. The best bit about this book, though, are the adventures the two friends have.
At about 13, they set off to find the three Wise Men who had been there at Joshua's birth, in order for Joshua to learn how to be the Messiah. They spend years in a cave-like fortress in Afghanistan with Balthasar, more years at a Budhist temple in the mountains with Gaspar, and yet more time in India in nooks in a cliff with the seagulls learning from Melchior. They learn Confuscius from Balthasar, Biff learns about poisons and alchemy from Balthasar's Chinese concubines, and they encounter a very hungry demon They meditate and study Budhism from Gaspar (as well as kung-fu and "Jew-do" because Joshua doesn't want to hurt anyone) and encounter the last Yeti; and rescue children from the Hindu god of destruction, Kali, before finding Melchior, who teaches Joshua how to fit himself inside a wine bottle and multiply food - which comes in handy later, that's for sure - while Biff learns the Kama Sutra.
Biff is the perfect counter-point to the more serious, naive and well-meaning Joshua, whose mother brought him up from birth to believe his father is God, not her husband Joseph. Although Moore admits it's hard to write a story set in this time and place because of the lack of knowledge of the period, he does an admirable job and it's entirely believable. I did find it a slow read at times, but I definitely found myself laughing as well. It also gave the best explanation of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, that I've ever heard, and suddenly it makes more sense. More to the point, though, it makes Joshua - Jesus - more human, and thus more sympathetic. That matters to me, though it might not to other people.
It got so that I found myself really caring for this character, and the others - especially Maggie (the Mary Magdelene), their friend from childhood. The final scenes, when you're suddenly reminded of how the story ends, creep up on you and settles like a lump in your throat, and I totally felt for Biff and understand why he did what he did at the end - though interestingly enough, despite all he'd seen Joshua do, and despite the fact that he had always believed in him, he did not believe Joshua could really bring himself back from the dead. And so, in the end, he did not have faith. A slight irony.
Despite Biff's silly humour and the occasional fart joke, Lamb is written with maturity, compassion and skill. The setting, landscape and supporting characters immerse you in the story, the period and the upheavels. More to the point, it's a nice (comforting) thought that Jesus might have had as good and loyal and silly a friend as Levi who is called Biff.(less)