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Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Storyteller Extraordinnaire

Remember that Show? Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) does need not to be introduced to the devotees of Little House Series, one of the most popular series of autobiographical fictions ever written. Many of us still retain fond memories of that magical TV show, popular in the 80s and early 90s, and a very thin rank of older readers (or I should add younger readers too who had the rare opportunity) who read the Little House in Bengali.

Little House Series: The nine books were, Little House In The Big Woods(1933), Little House In The Prairie(1935), By The Banks Of Plum Creek(1937), By The Shores Of Silver Lake(1939), Long Winter(1940), Little Town In The Prairie(1941), These Happy Golden Years(1943), Farmer Boy(1935) and First Four Years(1972). Farmer Boy is about Laura's husband Almanzo Wilder and First Four Years was published posthumously.

Translated in to 40 Languages: The popularity of the Little House series of books has grown phenomenally over the years, spawning a multimillion-dollar franchise of mass merchandising, in addition to spin-off book series (some written by Roger Lea MacBride and his daughter), and the long-running television show, starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. They set new benchmark for autobiographical writing and were translated into 40 languages.

From Pepin to Prairie: Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born near Pepin, Wisconsin in 1867, to Charles Phillip and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. She was the second of five children, four surviving Ingalls sisters were Mary, Laura, Cary and Grace. The details of her family life through adolescence are chronicled in her semi-autobiographical "Little House" books. As her books reveal, she and her family moved extensively throughout the mid-west during her childhood, eventually settling in De Smet, Dakota Territory, where she attended school and worked as a seamstress and teacher before meeting and marrying Almanzo James Wilder (18571949) in 1885. She had two children: the novelist, journalist and political theorist Rose Wilder Lane (18861968) and an unnamed son, who died soon after birth in 1889.

A New Pioneer: In 1930, Laura asked her daughter's opinion about a biographical manuscript she had written about her pioneering childhood. The Depression, coupled with the recent deaths of her mother and her sister Mary, seem to have prompted her to preserve her memories in a "life story" called "Pioneer Girl". She had also renewed her interest in writing in the hope of generating some income. Little did either of them realize that Laura Ingalls Wilder, 63, was about to embark on an entirely new career: writing books for children.

Third Person Narration, Vivid Description: Once upon a time a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Bigwoods of Wisconsin, in a little grey house made of logs…
The little girl was called Laura and she called her father Pa and her mother Ma. In those days and in that place did not say Father and Mother or Mamma and Papa as they do now…
..Wolves live in Bigwoods and bears and huge wild cats. Muskrats and mink and otters lived by the streams. Foxes have dens in the hills and deer roamed everywhere….At night, when Laura lay awake in the trundle bed and could not hear anything at all but the sound of the trees whispering together. Sometimes, far away in the night a wolf howled, then he came nearer then howled again…..
So begins the first page of the Little House in the Big Woods.
We are struck by several things at the beginningfirstly, the third person narration, Ms Wilder is calling herself Laura, that she is watching things from the perspective of a third person, a worthy trick of literary ventriloquism, and the secondly, vivid description of surrounding and the third thing is, she is using very modest and down to earth way of saying her bit, or writing for that matter. Most of the readers are hooked at the first page.

Bequeathed To Posterity: Laura once said the reason she wrote her autobiography in the first place was to preserve the stories of her childhood for today's children, to help them to understand how much America or for that matter world had changed during her lifetime. She was born in a log cabin, moved around in horse drawn buggies, settled with her family in virgin lands, yet she saw the atomic age, the year she died ushered in space age too (Sputnik the first satellite launched in 1957) !!.

Let's Revive the Series: It's regrettable that such a famous collection of books are now almost totally unavailable in Bangladesh. Once in 1950s and 1960s those books were actually translated in to Bengali (Wow! Folks were more literate back then!). Now Bangla books are totally out of print, out of markets out of everybody's consciousness. Pity, even English versions are unavailable even in swankiest of bookstores. In fact, nine Little House Books sold more than Lord of the Ring or Harry Potter collectively. In seventy five years not a single book is ever out of print. You can visit Amazon.com and find out for yourself.

By Abdullah Muhiuddin Tanim


Book review

The Blind Assassin

If you want a story with the depth of a classic, and the plot of a thriller; The Blind Assassin is what you are looking for. This Booker Prize winning novel by Margaret Atwood has all the elements needed to make you want to finish the 600+ pages. It begins with the ominously intriguing lines, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge…" You can't help but read on. Can you?

Margaret Atwood has, I must say unfolded the story with amazing skill as an author.

Parts of it are skillfully spun out as the autobiographical tale that octogenarian Iris Chase Griffen is writing out to leave to Sabrina Griffen- the granddaughter she has never been able to know properly. Other parts are in the form of an intriguing book named The Blind Assassin, written by Laura Chase and published posthumously.

Iris and Laura Chase are heiresses to Chase Industries in early 20th century Canada, after the First World War .The two sisters live a materially well-off childhood, which if not idyllic by it's own merits, is definitely better than what is to come. For as The Great Depression of the 1930's hits North America, the cornerstone of the family fortune, the Button Factory takes a hard toll. As times become harder, and the Chase Industries crumble, in walks Mr Richard E Griffen the businesses fiercest rival. He strikes a deal with the girl's father to save the industry, stop it from getting shutdown, and - to marry 18-year old Iris. Richard is 35-years old at the time. This marriage introduces Iris and Laura to a new, hypocritical, complex world where conspiracies ferment and shatter their previously sheltered existence.

The book is intensely emotional, the relationships heart-rending, and the end - chilling. I could find only one catch. If you are greedy for the story, and can't wait to know what happens in the end (like me), the abstract musings, and background descriptions can get tedious. I can't say I didn't skip a paragraph or two of particularly unexciting text the first time I read it, but the second time around, with my thirst for the story satiated, it was precisely those parts that I lingered over and savored. The writer's language is simple, and potent. The descriptions of present-day world viewed through an 80+ women's eyes are insightfully humorous. I definitely understand why it won the Booker Prize.

Any good bookstore should have the book, but if you are a British Council library member, you will find it sitting forlornly on the first shelves of fiction there, waiting to be read.

By Rifat A Zaman


 
 

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