viernes, 21 de abril de 2017


The official title for Chevalier's Recess meets Othello is now officially revealed to be NEW BOY!! (honestly, I thought she would change it because BLACK BOY sounds too racist for me as well as for many others)...
Now we've got a release date (for next month) as well as character names and a few relevant plot details!!
Add my own expectations for the book, translated or in original US English, or both, to arrive in Spain --El Corte Inglés offers shipping of the original already, but it won't be released until late May...
The perfect self-gift as a carrot to cram for the last university exams, the ones that will break or make my career!!
Since I had a pretty unconventional primary at a mental institution and all my classmates were mutes or echolalics, and it was a friendless secondary to high school teenage that introduced me to feeling LEFT OUT and clashing with classmates, my experience of primary school was not first-hand. Hitherto, all my experience of the social dynamics of recess had come from TV, from shows like Recess and various anime. I wanted to be an Ashley at heart, but I got gradually used to being one of the Pale Kids. Anyway, Napoleon had been one of them as well as a cadet and lieutenant!
So I'm really looking forwards to this... and I'll have to blog the review (and also the Waterfire reviews and those of KKPCàlM, while also doing all my Terminology homework; all that will make me type MORE THAN Alexander Hamilton)...

Osei Kokote is an diplomat’s son, newly posted to 1970s Washington, DC with his father. With only a few weeks of school left before the summer holidays, and graduation to junior high (secondary), he’s been enrolled in the local elementary (primary) school as a way to break him in softly, and give him the chance to meet new friends. This, as Osei knows only too well, is ridiculous. His parents don’t understand what it feels like to be the only black boy in a white sea of faces, among snide children and bigoted teachers. He does. He’s an expert at starting new schools: at always being the new boy, the oddity, standing out in Rome, London... And he’s used to the fact that, on your first day, no one cares for the new boy.
No one except Dee Benedetti, that is. Something of a teacher’s pet, she’s asked to take Osei under her wing. But, as they line up for class, there’s a spark of something unexpected between this blonde WASP girl and the quiet, courteous son of the Ghanaian diplomat. Fascinated by his charm, his composure, and his exoticism, Dee wants to help Osei – or ‘O’, as he suggests she calls him, as no one can pronounce his full name. She even swaps pencil cases with him, so that he doesn’t have to use his sister’s mortifying strawberry-patterned case (the only one his mum could find). By morning recess, the entire year is aware of their chemistry. By lunchtime, they’re going out. And, by afternoon recess, their blossoming tendresse is already heading towards the rocks of suspicion, jealousy and, perhaps, worse… And this comes courtesy of Ian, precociously cunning in the art of causing pain, who sees his hard-won place as the master of the playground slipping from his grip.
Othello should be a hard play to transpose to other circumstances. In an ideal world, it would be a historical piece, bound to the worldview of 17th-century Cyprus. Its nasty racial slurs should shock far more than they do. The fact that it can actually be retold so easily in the modern world is gloomy proof that we haven’t come anywhere near as far in terms of diversity and tolerance as we’d like to think. Yet, as I said above, I just can’t quite buy into the elementary-school setting. Chevalier does a good job of transposing characters: Osei’s and Dee’s class tutor is Mr Brabant; the headmistress is Mrs Duke; Ian’s sidekick is the irritating Rod; and his unwilling girlfriend is the delicate Mimi (whose migraines seem to indicate some kind of clairvoyant power). And yes, of course one takes things seriously at school – but might it not have worked better with slightly older children? Yes, primary-age children play at going out with one another – I remember getting married several times in the playground – 
CHEVALIER: For the Othello fans among you, just to say: Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" is the "Willow Song" in New Boy. I'll say no more - you'll have to read it to see!
As her contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series of contemporary retellings of the Bard’s works, Tracy Chevalier turns Othello into the story of a disastrous chain of events that follows a black student’s (Ghanan foreign service brat Osei Kokote's) arrival at a white elementary (primary) school in suburban Washington, D.C., the capital of the US.
Knowing Othello is a tragedy, readers begin the novel with dread, aware that at least one of the sixth-grade protagonists gathering before classes begin will likely meet a tragic end. Among the girls, Dee is smart and popular, Mimi intuitive and thoughtful, Blanca what used to be called “fast.” Blanca’s boyfriend, Casper, is the most popular boy, but “calculating” Ian runs the playground. The children are shocked by the arrival of Osei, a Ghanaian diplomat’s son and the first black child the all-white school has seen. Despite references to Soul Train and bell bottoms, the school’s straight-laced, narrow-minded atmosphere feels more 1950s than post–Civil Rights–era 1970s. Dee and Casper are the two exceptions. Casper offers friendship while the romantic attraction between Dee and Osei is immediately palpable—and goes over the top into ick-factor territory when Dee looks at Osei and “the fire leapt and spread through him.” Meanwhile, Ian senses Osei will challenge his sway over his classmates, especially after Osei shows prowess during a kickball game. Lacking Osei’s confusing charm, Ian comes across as a bully who controls through fear. He manipulates the other kids to create emotional mayhem that closely follows the original play’s outline. The book’s five divisions equate to the play’s five acts, and the novel’s primary pleasure lies in how Chevalier parallels Shakespeare’s plot details—for instance, transforming Othello’s handkerchief embroidered with strawberries into Osei’s strawberry-embossed pencil box and having the kids play on a playground pirate ship. And the Willow Song sung by Dee is Killing Me Softly!
This follow-the-plot-dots modernization unfortunately falls flat due to Chevalier’s heavy-handedness in turning Othello into a polemic on the evils of racism and her awkward shoehorning of tween angst into Shakespearian tragedy.

Chevalier sets this tragedy in a Washington, DC primary school in May 1974, and the main characters are sixth-graders.  According to an interview on YouTube (and her website),

I was 11 in 1974... I grew up in Washington, DC, and lived in an integrated neighbourhood and went to a school that was about 80% black, and so I had the unusual experience of being a white minority. And I wanted to write about that, although I have flipped it ... the book opens with a black boy walking onto an all-white playground, and it's about what happens to him over the course of the day.

Chevalier of course simplified the story, removing most of the subplots, but the characters are still recognizable:
  • Othello - "O" or Osei , the son of a Ghanan diplomat, whose name means "noble" in his language.  He is the "new boy" of the title - this is his fourth school in at least three different cities in six years.
  • Desdemona - Dee, short for Daniela, the most popular girl in the sixth grade, although her mother is very strict and she goes home for lunch every day.  She is assigned by their teacher to take care of O on his first day.
  • Iago - Ian, the clever sixth grade bully (and the villain of the play).
  • Emilia - Mimi, Dee's best friend, now "going with" Ian although she wants out of it.
  • Cassio - Casper, the most popular boy in the sixth grade.
  • Roderigo - Rod, Ian's sidekick, who has a crush on Dee.
  • Bianca - Blanca, Dee's and Mimi's friend who is "going with" Casper.
  • Brabantio - Mr. Brabant, the teacher for O, Dee, Casper, and Blanca, a Vietnam veteran.
  • Lodovico - Miss Lode, the teacher for Ian, Mimi, and Rod.
  • Montano - Miss Montano, the school nurse.
  • The Duke of Venice - Mrs. Duke, the school principal (headmistress).

The handkerchief, the symbol of perceived betrayal in the original play, becomes a pencil case.

The book is divided into five sections - before school, morning recess, lunchtime, afternoon recess, and after school - corresponding with the five acts of Shakespeare's play.  Each section begins with a jump rope chant.  Chevalier said she especially enjoyed being able reference ... the games we played, the slang we used, the candy we ate, how school worked, how I felt in school, and all that stuff came rushing back.  It was it was a great experience and very different from what I normally ... write, historical novels that are set ... centuries ago and have nothing to do with me.

Nevertheless, Chevalier's experience with writing historical fiction has her including all sorts of period details from 1974 (songs, TV shows, etc.) that made me appreciate the setting even more. (But from the US; some of these references may be foreign to Europeans like me!)

I also loved the way she worked in the class preparing to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream (page 112).  When Dee tells O she is playing Hermia, Ian overhears.
"Doesn't she fall in love with one boy after another?" Ian interjected.  "She's fickle like that.  Lucky boys."
"Only because of what you do.  It's just magic," Dee explained, as O's face darkened.  "It's a comedy, so it turns out alright in the end."
"Who do you play?" O demanded of Ian.
"He plays Puck," Dee said.  "The head fairy who makes all the mischief happen."

So true!  This is a tragedy of jealousy.  Updating the story to the 1970s also highlights the prejudices that are still relevant today.  I was in sixth grade just a few years before 1974 - and all the ever-changing friendships, crushes, and jealousies of that age ring true.

The book's ending is vague, but I think that is deliberate.  Something bad happens (the play IS a tragedy, with three of the four main characters dead by the end, and the fourth is arrested), but it's not quite clear what.

Highly recommended.

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