The all-time Classic schoolroom drama – as relevant as today’s headlines .. (Goodreads).
Authored by E. R. Braithwaite, I came across this book in the fiction section of our office library. One of my friends had given it 4 stars rating in Goodreads. So I decided to give it a go & borrowed it from the library. And after reading it, I know I want to own this book and add it to my collection of my favourite books.
Coming to the review, for me, this book was both thought provoking & inspiring. It talks about racism – the shame and hatred associated with it, and also about how a teacher has great impact on the lives of his/her students. The quotes Braithwaite uses are quite apt & really made me think, and his words stayed in my mind for a long time.
The story begins at the East End of London, during the 1940’s. Rick Braithwaite is a young black man, who just got out of the Air Force after a successful stint. Now in Britain, Braithwaite is looking for a career, but things do not work out as planned. He comes to know the malady of prejudice very well, as he is turned down from job after job just because of the colour of his skin. When a woman refuses to sit next to him on the bus, Braithwaite is saddened and angered by her prejudice.
Disheartened and saddened & with worries of his dwindling finances, Braithwaite was one day sitting in a bench in a park, where an old man talked to him. The old man gave him a piece of advice that as Braithwaite says ‘…changed the whole course of my life’. The old man had said “A big city cannot have its attention distracted from the important job of being a big city by such a tiny, unimportant item as your happiness or mine…. A great city is a battle field. You need to be a fighter to live in it, not exist, mark you, live. Anybody can exist, dragging his soul behind him like a worn out coat; but living is different. It can be hard, but it can also be fun; there’s so much going on all the time that is new and exciting…”.
Finally Braithwaite lands up as a teacher in Greenslade Secondary School, which is surrounded by poor neighborhoods crammed with social rebels. His choice of words in describing the neighbourhood was so brilliant that I could actually picture it. When he begins his job, the reactions from many of his students & colleagues, are the same. But soon teaching becomes the therapy to set him free. After spending time with the students, Mr. Braithwaite began “learning from them as well as teaching them.” He realized that they might have problems in their personal lives, but when they entered the classroom, Mr. Braithwaite joined them on a journey to adulthood. The students asked many questions which allowed them to acquire the knowledge they deserved. From time to time, the questions touched upon the people of different races, and Mr. Braithwaite gave mature answers, and spoke to them as if they were adults. Braithwaite’s theory was to treat his students as if they were older than what they were, so that they would behave more responsibly. When as a teacher he respected them, the students in return, accepted him and honored him with the title of “Sir.” So at the end of his 7 months as a teacher, he turns this class of delinquents into a class of young men and women with class, ready to face the outside world with a new enthusiasm and lot of confidence.
In the book, the issue of racism does not dominate the story. However, it does not disappear altogether. What attracted me in this book was the character of Mr Braithwaite . The way he conducted himself, inspite of people discriminating against him for the colour of his skin was very inspiring. He reflects that, “At first it was terrible, but gradually’m learning what it means to live with dignity inside my black skin”.
The book held me in such a grip that I did not want the book to end. I personally would recommend this book as a must-read to everybody. It’s a beautiful book about human nature. Basically, it’s one of those classics which any book lover or even someone who is not a bookworm would like to read. You just can’t miss it.
New York Times had rightly said about the book, “A book that the reader devours quickly, ponders slowly, forgets not at all….. Moving and inspiring”.