4 Narratives with a Strong Setting

The Open Window by Henri Matisse

The Setting in a narrative or a fictional piece of work can refer to a period in time or a geographic place. Along with style, plot, characters, it is considered an important component of storytelling. 
Setting is not just the place or the background; it is the mood that dictates the story. 

There are many books and pieces of fiction where the setting is overwhelming, so much so that it decides how the story would move along. 

Here are a few of my favorites. 

1. Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge 

In this classic play, it is the sea that forms the backdrop to this tragedy. It is the sea that shapes the life of the protagonists and it is the sea that is the witness to the tribulations of the inhabitants of the Aran islands. 

The sea is all pervading and it never leaves the subconscious of the characters or the readers. 

2. The Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

In this short story, it is the Arctic that is a strong contender for a character. Revenge unfolds against the “vast cool sweeps of ice and rock and sea and sky”. And as the central character Verna says that the landscape is uncluttered, which makes the story progress linearly towards a cold blooded murder. 

3. Matisse stories by A. S. Byatt 

In this collection of stories, three tales are masterfully written and inspired in some way by a painting of Henri Matisse. The stories are evocative and capture a relationship between seeing and feeling. 

Just like the paintings, the writing is vibrant and nearly explodes with color. 

4. Making a Mango Whistle by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay 

It is the countryside in this delightful adaptation of the famous ‘Pather Panchali’ for children that shapes the world that the children, Durga and Apu live in. 

The forest around the tiny village is where the children grow up, exploring and experiencing. The monsoon swoops down suddenly and the forest transforms from being magical to something fearful. All through the book, the children embrace nature even more than the people around them. 

Dear Reader, please share the books and short stories that you like where the Setting is bold and influences the narrative strongly. 

This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

Making a Mango Whistle-A Book Review

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Making a Mango Whistle

Book: Making a Mango Whistle

Genre: Young Adult

Author: Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay

Publisher: Penguin – Puffin Classics

Which is a better phase of life than childhood? Don’t we all wish we could go back to being carefree children, knowing nothing but play and exploring the world around us?

“Making a Mango Whistle” by Bibhutibhushan Bandhyopadhyay is for the young adult reader so that they can explore the delights of childhood anew and muse on the minor disappointments that seem like great tragedies to the children themselves.

Apu and Durga are brother and sister, children of Harihar and Sarbhojoya, living on the fringes of the village and prosperity, immersed in joys that only children can summon even in adverse circumstances.

When Bibhutibhushan published his first book ‘Pather Panchali’, it was hailed as a masterpiece in Bengali literature. Soon, ‘Making a Mango Whistle’ was published, which dealt only with the children and their wonder filled lives.

Durga is a six year old girl at the beginning of the book. The book talks of Durga and her as yet unborn brother Apu for the next five years. Durga is very attached to her Pishima-her father’s sister. Pishima is a widow, dependent, old and frail. The first few chapters explore the relationship of the old woman and the young girl beautifully. The pathos of old age and its juxtaposition with the childhood innocence of Durga touches hearts.

The birth of Durga’s little brother Apu changes the girl’s life. The tragic and the apathetic end of Indir Thakuran or Pishima is the end of a phase in the little girl’s world and she now turns to her little brother.

We see Durga as a carefree child, bold and always exploring the village and the mangrove forest around. She is never to be found home. As Apu grows older, he becomes her companion and friend in all their misdeeds.

Reading about their escapades and their innocent play and the sibling love made me long for my own childhood. I experienced a range of emotions, from tender love to incredulity at the world’s ways, to deep regret of why things could not be otherwise.

There are endearing descriptions of mango picking, pickling and eating the sour fruit behind their mother’s back. There is make-believe play where the children set up shop and gather sand, pebbles and other things to act as wares. The cookout by Durga in the woods introduces us to Bini, who is ostracized because of her caste.

Durga is very loving and protective towards her brother. She shelters him from the cold wind and a heavy downpour when they run off in the storm to gather mangoes that have fallen from trees. She often gives him money to buy what he wants.

The most evocative incident in the book is when the children walk for miles to see the railroad in the hope of seeing a train. They walk amid thorns, lose their way and stumble back hone only by evening, having failed to find the rail tracks.

Apu, eventually goes on to see the railroad, then a train and after that, even travel in one as the family leaves their ancestral home in the village of Nischindipur for greener pastures and better prospects in Benaras.

Durga watches them or seems to Apu to watch them go, standing by the Jamun tree at the edge of the village. Apu thinks of his elder sister repeatedly over the years, even into his adulthood. Even in the unguarded moments, he always remembers his didi, once weak and fever ridden, asking him to show him a train.

The village life, the community events and the excitement that fairs and jatras evoke in the are beautifully rendered.

The narrative is richly interwoven with the description of the flora and fauna found around the village. The book tells a touching tale of rural Bengal, of innocent joys, of sibling love and of the turns and events in the life of a simple, impoverished family.