I love Frank McCourt. Having read both his earlier memoirs, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, it was with eagerness that I picked up Teacher Man. Anyone who has read the two books I mentioned would know that you would be lining up to buy anything else that Frank McCourt writes.
I used to teach before too and a book that combines Frank McCourt and teaching was far too irresistible. Buy it I did. Enjoy it for a while I did. Satisfied though, I wasn't.
This book deals completely with McCourt's 30 years of teaching - mainly in vocational schools and colleges in America. Interspersed in between are just little glimpses of his own personal travails - his marriage, his daughter, subsequent divorce and a failed attempt at a Ph.D. Critics call this "an enthralling work of autobiographical storytelling," "an irresistible valedictory, about a man finding his voice in the classroom, on the page and in his soul," and insist that it should be mandatory reading for every school in the US. I breezed through the first 200 pages of it - even woke up at 3AM on this urge to finish it - but I found myself with that sad feeling of being let down towards the end.
It seems that there is a certain laboured forcefulness that creeps in - it is almost as if Frank McCourt is willing himself to bring some treasured vignettes of school life to memory. That effort ruins the story. Perhaps I come closest to agreeing with Frank Skloot here who agrees that the writing seems "listless, almost forced." And oh, for clarity sake, why wouldn't an English teacher use quotation marks? It irritated me no end, as sometimes I could not make out if McCourt was articulating his own thoughts or elucidating one of his students' thoughts. And there too comes my biggest grouse - for a memoir about teaching, where are the students? In between long wanderings into the deep recesses of a frustrated teacher's mind, perhaps one Tony or Michelle or Sandra sneak their way in. Arbitrarily. Perfunctorily. None of them leave an impression. They are merely tools for the great teacher's observations - the props but not the drama or the stage. That is the disappointment. Just zany anecdotes. Not that I remember any of it.
C'mon teacher, give us something better. Miserable childhoods seem far better to read than frustrated, middle lives that peter out in quiet desperation.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
This was a strange book. A strange little beautiful book nevertheless. I bought this book on Saturday and finished it less than 24 hours later on Sunday.
The cover says it all -"In the bestselling tradition of The Alchemist." I was intrigued - what could possibly follow in the footsteps of Paulo Coelho's all-time classic? Rumi's Daughter by Muriel Maufroy does not quite fit in as a classic but in these days of restlessness, of disquiet and mind-shattering violence, the book is a quiet oasis of calm. Of wisdom - cliched wisdom perhaps to the cynic - but there is a gentle resonance throughout the book that suggests that really really the best journeys are those underfoot in the heart.
Rumi is now of the acknowledged great mystical poets. The tale of his adopted daughter Kimya falls into the realm of surrealism. This is not a tale to be entered into with logic - plenty of suspension of disbelief is required. And the mystic calm of the book, as evident in this extract, is only for those who look for it. It calmed me a little, certainly. Perhaps, there is a magic stillness to this world somewhere. Perhaps, there is some peace within the madness. Perhaps, Rumi knew the answer.