Jamila Gavin is an amazing writer and I was surprised to find that her ‘Wheel of Surya’ trilogy had passed me by; I thought I knew all her books. This novel is the first of three and covers the early years of Marvinder and her brother Jaspal. Their young lives are disrupted events both global and local. First they experience a tragedy affecting the children of the family their mother works for and then partition of India causes an eruption of violence that ends their village as a place of safety.
Different religions kill each other and Jaspal and Marvinder, as Sikhs, decide to escape with their mother in search of their father, Govind. The search takes them first to Bombay and then on to London. How they end up travelling to the other side of the world without their mother and how they cope in London in the 1940s forms part of this exciting novel.
It is a story of cultural difference, of how identity is implanted on us by others, and how crossing borders can turn you from commonplace to exotic. It is also a story of wanting and trying to fit in. The effect of life in London on Govind shows that wanting to belong can be a powerful motivating factor.
In this story, I was most struck by the effect on Jaspal of tracking down his father in war damaged Britain and the reaction he got from London locals who were surprised to find a boy who looked so different.
The story is somewhat cinematic as it stretches across two continents ans several years and there are threads which are bound to be explored in the next books of the trilogy.
‘The Wheel of Surya’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Heart of a Samurai is a 2010 novel by Margi Preus based on a real life story of a young Japanese boy who strayed out to sea while fishing and ended up in the rescuing arms of an American whaler, whose kindly captain takes a shine to the young boy because of his curiosity and intelligence.
Manjiro Nakahama is thought to be the first Japanese person to live in America. His own country was sealed off from the rest of the world in the 1830s and 40s and contact with foreigners was hazardous for Japanese people. Having been taken on board the American ship, the option of returning to their homeland was taken from them.
Manjiro was a poor fisherman but he dreamed of being a Samurai, something a boy of his class could never hope to be. The only future he and the other members of his crew could hope for was one of abandonment on a neutral island. The American Captain Whitfield, wants to adopt Manjiro and offers him a place in his home back in the United States. His fellow countrymen fear that going to America will contaminate him but the kindness of the captain and the promise of education prove to be a powerful incentive.
The story shows how he copes in a strange land and how his hope to return to Japan spurs him on to further adventures. How he becomes a Samurai and what that means in a more open Japan becomes clear.
This is a book about crossing cultural boundaries and finding an identity through the experiences you go through. Margi Preus discovered the true story of the Japanese boy who went to America when she was researching another book.
It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I remember this series from the 70s and watched it again recently. The only reason I watched it when I was young was because I watched everything with Simon Gipps- Kent in it. He isn’t the star, we see the story through the eyes of Penelope who is played by Sophie Thompson, but his character is a significant part of the plot so I tuned in each week.
The series from 1978 is about a girl who travels from her home in London to stay with her Aunt and Uncle on their Derbyshire farm. While there, she finds herself travelling back in time to the Tudor times where the resident family are supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth is the Queen and Penelope knows her history sufficiently well to know that the family’s plans to rescue the Catholic Queen do not end well.
Simon Gipps- Kent played Francis, a loyal supporter of Mary, who develops an interest in Penelope. He is believing of her when she says she comes from the future. Interestingly, he fails to question her about the fate of the Queen he supports.
Looking at the series now, after 37 years, I was struck by how long the director lingered over scenes that added little to the story. In modern productions, the cuts between scenes would be more frequent and the action at a faster pace. This is not always a good thing but there is no doubt that this production would have benefited from a faster pace at times.
Simon Gipps- Kent died at an early age so the promise shown in so many of the television series of the 70s was not realised. He sports a perm in this role which was partly to give a Tudor look but also because the late 70s was the time of the male perm.
In 1961 a group of dedicated activists led a campaign to desegregate America’s interstate transport network by riding on buses across the South. Their groups were interracial and their point was made by sitting together and using restrooms and waiting areas in a mixed rather than segregated way. This caused many problems in the southern states who saw the campaign as an attack on their way of life.
This film by Stanley Nelson tells the story through archive footage and interviews with those involved who survived to tell the story. Made in 2010, the footage is still shocking. The level of violence, often endorsed by those in authority, highlights the bravery of the young men and women who volunteered to ride on the buses. Over 400 people participated through the spring and summer and into the autumn of 1961.
What comes across most powerfully, apart from the obvious bravery of those fighting for civil rights, is the powerlessness of the Federal government to uphold the law. John Seigenthaler worked for Robert Kennedy. He came under attack at the hands of racist mobs when trying to ensure the freedom riders were protected. Whether the actions of the civil rights protesters forced the government to act is up for debate but the footage had a powerful impact and the USA had to defend its record on race to hostile countries.
‘Freedom Riders’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?