Thursday, November 4, 2010

Returning to an old friend

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
 I must admit, I have always been a serial rereader and as a child I reread The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, as well as A Girl Called Disaster about five times each . I decided to return to The Ear to see how it holds up.
            It’s set in Zimbabwe in 2194, and it follows the three children of the Chief of Security:  Tendai (13), Rita (11) and Kuda (4). Since their father so powerful and has eliminated almost all the gangs, he is always afraid that his children will be kidnapped as a way to get back at him. Instead the children are homeschooled and never experience much of the outside world. As well, since their parents are always working, they live surrounded by robots and are watched over  by the childlike Mellower, who is a professional Praise Singer. Unfortunately, this makes it very hard for Tendai and Rita to get their explorer badge in Scouting, so they ask  the Mellower to help them leave the house for a day to go from one part of the city to another. The Mellower hypnotizes their father during Praise into giving them codes out of the house, as well as money for the bus and for food. However, the three children have no experience of the real world, including how to pay for food and how to take the bus and they are promptly kidnapped. When their parents realize what has happened they hire detectives.  The Ear, the Eye and the Arm were born in Hwange village, where their mothers were exposed to plutonium in the water. Each of the detectives has specialized mutations, including amazing hearing, amazing sight, and the ability to sense other people’s feelings, and occasionally read minds. The novel follows Tendai as he tries to bring his sister and brother home, and the detectives as they try to find the children.
             I still love this book because it has such a mishmash of genres. It’s sci-fi futuristic, it’s filled with adventure, there’s a coming of age story, there’s a detective story and  Shona beliefs about ancestors, spirits and witchcraft are integral to the plot. Ancestors can pass their gifts on to their descendants, and if it is necessary,  the mhondro or spirit of the land can enter people to help them save Zimbabwe. At one point, the children reach Resthaven, a walled community that decided 200 years ago to live as their ancestors did and to deny the advances of technology. Tendai loves the traditional village life because it feels so right, especially compared to his machine-filled home, but he can’t deny that there are some problems too.  In Resthaven, Rita has to work harder than he does because she’s a girl. As well, when twins are born, one must die, and the witch who cursed the mother and caused twins must be found and punished.  Traditional life isn’t seen as perfect, but it also isn’t denigrated as the bad old days.
  The novel also talks about the way that people put a blind eye to other people’s problems. The children had no idea that there were place like Dead Man’s Vlei, an old garbage dump, where people live and mine the plastic and other resources. The people who live there are seen as disposable people, out of sight, out of mind, but the Vlei is also a safe place for people who have been thrown out of regular society. A lot of stock is put in the way that too much Praise may help people feel so good that they ignore the experiences of others.
You are allowed to mock me, but I only found out that Nancy Farmer is white when I was in high school.  At first, it bothered me because I was concerned about appropriation and (when I was younger) authenticity, but rereading the novel again I think that it demonstrates a love for Zimbabwe and its people. It doesn’t make the country or the characters exotic and the appendix mentions that her explanation of the spirit world of the Shona, and of the Shona as a people is simplified because a young non-African audience might not understand. I did some research and found out that she worked as a scientific researcher in Mozambique and Zimbabwe from 1972 to 1988 and lived through some very dangerous situations, especially because there were civil wars occurring in both countries at the time. She returned to America mainly for her son’s sake. Rereading the novel now with that in mind, my main thoughts are that I hope that Zimbabwe can someday be as bright and peaceful as what she’s imagined, because right now it’s a dark, hard place.

No comments:

Post a Comment