#TuesdayBookBlog ‘My Life as a Rat’ by @JoyceCarolOates #BookReview

My Life as a Rat: A Novel by [Oates, Joyce Carol]

I’m a bit behind with my reviews. I’ll be catching up gradually. Today, I’m starting with the last book I’ve read, which is My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates.

I am ashamed to admit that although I have read some of her poems and posted about one of them here, I had never read any novels by this author. Then a few weeks ago, I read an interview with the author about her new novel, in the Guardian, and my interest was peaked, but when I read the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I was almost put off. I say almost, because I’m an avid reader, reviewer and writer, and I know how subjective most reviews are.

Some of the negative terms which appeared were, too long, repetitive, slow, disappointed, disorganised, violence, abuse, disturbing. That made me realise it would not be an easy book to read, but I decided I was up for the challenge.

I started reading the book on my Scribd subscription last Friday, and I couldn’t stop until I finished it on Sunday night. It’s hard to introduce other readers to such a brilliant book in a few hundred words, but I’m going to do my best.

Joyce Carol Oates

My Life as a Rat is a heart-rending novel which deals with topics such as, abuse, domestic violence, ignorance, racism and gender inequality.

It presents these topics honestly and brutally, so much so that some people may feel uncomfortable, or even disgusted. Well this isn’t a light romance, this is a raw and harrowing view of a segment of the population. Extrapolating Violet’s town, family and life to every woman in the world would be absurd, even though Violet is not the only girl who has lived or lives so close to so many ignorant and/or evil people.

In spite of everything Violet experiences, I find the novel hopeful because the reader is led to believe there is an implicit answer to the senseless violence, lack of love, gender inequality, racism and ignorance, and that’s Violet’s attitude to adversity: learn the lesson, get up and move on! That is to say she persevers, she tries to do the right thing, she actively searches for a better education, she wishes to accept her responsibility in events, forgive herself and others and repair whatever she can, and especially, she never loses the ability to keep reaching for her dreams.

Violet is a wonderful character who never gives up, she’s bigger than the events she overcomes, because she’s able to move on, keep loving and forgiving, and I think she stands a good chance of finding happiness, perhaps, one day…

A must read for anyone who wants to understand what’s wrong with our society and how we can find ways to heal and be reconciled.

*****

#AtoZChallenge ‘C’ #NationalPoetryMonth ‘Half Caste’ #NPM17 #CarrotRanch

This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of both poems will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge.

Today I’ve also added a third challenge, Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch, weekly Flash Fiction Challenge based on a 99 word prompt. This weeks’ prompt is write a ‘hello or a goodbye’

Today I offer you Half Caste by Luccia Gray, and Half Caste by Guyanese poet John Agard.

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My poem is about a group of school children who meet a new girl. Here’s their ‘hello’ and her ‘goodbye’.

Half Caste by Luccia Gray

She was doing her homework.

They were playing around.

‘She’s not like us,’ they whispered.

‘She’s different,’ he complained.

‘Odd clothes, funny accent,’ she smirked.

‘Let’s say hi to the new girl.’

‘You’re not English,’ they said.

‘I was born here,’ she protested.

‘You’re only half English,’ they replied.

‘Right or left?’ she challenged.

‘You’re colouring’s wrong,’ they complained.

‘My tanned colouring’s fine,’ she replied.

‘You’re half caste,’ they said.

‘Look at me, I’m quite whole,’ she insisted.

‘You’re half caste,’ they chanted.

‘At least I’m not half stupid,’ she sighed,

Said goodbye and turned back to her books.

***

.

Half Caste by John Agard

Excuse me

Standing on one leg

I’m half-caste

Explain yuself

Wha yu mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean when picasso

Mix red an green

Is a half-caste canvas/

Explain yuself

Wha u mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean when light an shadow

Mix in de sky

Is a half-caste weather/

Well in dat case

England weather

Nearly always half-caste

In fact some o dem cloud

Half-caste till dem overcast

So spiteful dem dont want de sun pass

Ah rass/

Explain yuself

Wha yu mean

When yu say half-caste

Yu mean Tchaikovsky

Sit down at dah piano

An mix a black key

Wid a white key

Is a half-caste symphony/

Read the whole poem here http://www.intermix.org.uk/poetry/poetry_01_agard.asp

John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949. His mother was Portuguese, and his father was Caribbean. In 1977, he moved to Britain.

This poem was written in response to those who referred to him as ‘half-caste’. In spite of the humour, bitterness and anger also comes across in his words.

He uses the overused and often meaningless expression ‘Excuse me’ as he sarcastically apologizes for being half caste.

I love the rhythm of the poem and the way he compares his mixed racial and cultural origins to a Picasso painting or a symphony by Tchaikovsky.

Agard finally challenges the reader to explain himself and realise how inaccurate and offensive the expression is.

The girl in my poem on the other hand isn’t angry or embittered because she is assertive and clever enough to get on with her own life and ignore some narrow minded people one is always bound to bump into in life.

By the way, it’s a unique experience to hear Agard read the poem himself. Watch it here!

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