Friday, October 25, 2013

Moving towards a better future

Hope is the biggest motivator for anyone. After all the troubles were released from Pandora's box, plaguing humankind forever, out fluttered Hope. When things look black, a person will often endeavour for a better future. Some moves are in search of that future.

Here are three books, one each from Europe, North America and South America, that deal with voluntary migration.


A Titanic Journey Across the Sea 1912
Written by Lawrie Lawlor
Published by Minstrel Pocket Books
Ages 9-12

Alfreda Anderson, all of 16 years old, has ambitions. Always a good student, lean times meant that she has to give up her dreams of a higher education and work as a housemaid to supplement her family's income on their ancestral farm in Sweden. Her grandparents are now old, and her mother struggles to make ends meet. There is also her younger sister, 10 Her father has gone to faraway 'Amerika', the land of dreams for their people, a land where work is plenty for those willing, with food enough to feed everyone. He makes a living working odd jobs so that he can put together enough to get his wife, ill son, and two daughters to the land of dreams, so that they can have a real future. Before the tickets arrive, though, disaster strikes. Alfreda's little brother Karl succumbs to the cough that plagued his short life. 

After a sorrowful parting with their grandparents, who they know they will never be seeing again, the two girls and their mother make the harrowing journey by ship on the North Sea to England, where they have to board the grand ship that will take them across the Atlantic. On the eve of their journey, their mother develops a skin rash that looks suspicious to the authorities at the ship's ticket offices. She is to wait alone until the rash clears and she can travel. It is Alfreda, and the 10 year old Erna with whom she cannot see eye to eye, who have to make the journey together, across the seas. As luck would have it, their tickets are for the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. The short journey, however, brings the sisters closer in spirit, and Alfreda ensures that Erna gets a seat in one of the lifeboats, at the cost of her own life.

Laurie Lawlor, the author, has written a fictionalized account of a real survivor of the Titanic. The passenger lists have both the sisters' names, but the list of the survivors picked up by the Carpathia mentions only Erna Anderson. The atmosphere on the Titanic, the descriptions of steerage and first class accommodations  the attitudes of the staff, the discrimination by class, the actual scenes at the disaster - they all ring true.

Almost a fourth of the Swedish population migrated to America between 1890 and 1918, before WW1. The book tells wonderfully of the deprivation of these times, and the struggle the ordinary people went through to make such momentous decisions as moving to a completely new world. A world with alien customs, and an alien language.

There are a whole series of these books - all historical fiction, placed in defferent periods pertaining to American history by the same author, that are worth exploring. The American Sisters series.


Cabin on Trouble Creek
Written by Jean van Leeuwen
Published by Puffin books
Age 9-12

9-year-old Will and 12-year-old Daniel travel west with their Pa, to Ohio, a wilderness where a group of white people have destroyed a some Indian villages and driven away the natives a few years back in a massacre. Now the land is being settled upon by those who have the courage to move into the unknown territories. They mark out a large area of forested land, adjacent to a creek, and start felling the trees to make a clearing and build a log cabin. After a rudimentary structure is made, Pa leaves them to finish the work, and goes back east to Philadelphia to get the rest of the family. He promises to be back in 6-8 weeks, leaving them enough food until they are all together again.

Which does not happen. Months go by, and there is no sign of their family. The nearest neighbours are 15 miles away, and food is scarce in the wilderness. Or so they think. What happens next? How do two boys, not yet in their teens, manage in the forest by themselves, especially when winter arrives with its skyload of snow? Who, or what, is it, that Daniel, the older one, senses in the forest?

A coming of age story of the two brothers, so different in temperament, yet bound together by their dependence on each other through a hair-raising adventure. In an author's note at the end of the book, Jean van Leeuwen says, "This story is based on an actual incident in Ohio history as recorded in a collection of reminiscences of pioneer life...not much is known about the episode except the two brothers' names and ages and the fact that they survived alone in a partly built cabin in the wilderness for eight months from the fall of 1803 until spring of 1804."

We have the wonderful Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which are the classics that deal with the history of settlements in the US. This book is a similar one in spirit.


The Good Garden - how one family went from hunger to having enough
Written by Katie Smith Milway
Illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
Published by CitizenKid
Ages 9-12

The Duarte family are poor farmers in Latin America. They eke out a living off their land, getting a meagre crop of corn from the hilly land. The land has begun to fail the Duartes and their neighbour farmers, as it has lost all its richness over years of cultivation. Many of their neighbours are deeply in debt to the local coyote, who loans them the seeds to plant, but takes thrice the amount in return. Some of them have already left their land and homes, and moved to the city in search of work and food. Maria Luz Duarte's father also decides to go to the city. He leaves Maria Luz in charge of the farm, however.

Now, there is a new teacher at school, Don Pedro, who has strange ideas about how things should be done. He teaches Maria Luz a new way of making food for the soil - with all the leaves and other farm rubbish that her father normally burns. What happens next? How does this change things for the family?

A wonderfully illustrated book that deals with the question of food insecurity, this is based on a real life story of a family who began to incorporate methods of natural composting after being taught how to, by a real Honduran teacher called Don Elias Sanchez. He gave his whole life to working with poor farmers, educating them to care for their lands and increase food production. Food insecurity had forced them to migrate to cities for work, living in poverty in slums, when little changes could significantly solve their problems.

There is an afterword that discusses this problem worldwide, and particularly in South American countries.

Images courtesy flipkart, goodreads.


sathish said...

Sandhya, You are on a roll.

Sounds like a another great thread of books on voluntary migration..

Choxbox said...

What Sathish said. Miss your library Sandhya!

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