Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Harpier cries, "'Tis time, 'tis time"


I felt compelled to to read the next installment in the Jade del Cameron 1920s Africa mystery series, mainly because I've invested so much time in it already (and also probably because I'm feeling nostalgic for my own African adventure.) The tropes are getting old, though, filled with mysterious and often supernatural-possessed natives. This one was no different: the murder-solving multicultural American heroine and her family embark on a trip to Zanzibar. They manage to destroy a cult, solve some murders, and free slaves, all despite local legends of witchcraft and sorcery.

Months ago, I accidentally abandoned my Newbery Medal-reading streak, but recently tried to re-start that by re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I liked it well enough as a fifth grader when I originally read it: after all, it features a strong teenage heroine who challenges 17th-century Puritan gender norms. Reading it almost 30 years later as an adult was interesting: I distinctly remember 10-year-old me being surprised and disgusted by the love triangle, dismissing it all as mushy crap. Re-reading it as an adult, it's a very obvious subplot. It's still a cute story, with a good message for young readers about doing good, treating all people with respect, and standing up for themselves and others... a somber lesson to take into 2017.

I'm not entirely sure how Blackbird rose to the top of my Newbery reading list, but I suspect it's because I've been listening the hell out of Hamilton. (I suspect that Hamilton's childhood in St. Kitts and Nevis reminded me of Blackbird Kit's childhood in Barbados.)

It took months and months of friends pleading with me to listen to the soundtrack before one finally had a Hamilton listening party that forced me to hear it in all its brilliance.

The play admittedly has its faults, and scores of critics have ranted about them more eloquently than I could -- about the whitewashing of slavery despite having a mostly black cast, the glorification of bootstrap ideology, failing the Bechdel test, etc. But as a history nerd, it's a freaking Tony-winning musical about the country's first Secretary of the Treasury! You can still appreciate that it's a fantastic story, without forgetting or demeaning its historical context. As a carefully crafted tale, its narrative structure is just sheer genius.

Along with Les Miserables and Newsies, it's now one of my favorite musicals. (Yes, I have a strong preference for productions with a fight-for-justice theme.)

Besides, wildly popular cultural phenomena are only relevant because they speak to something about the contemporary condition. Hamilton is actually a story about the here and now and the debate Americans have been having over national identity since electing a black president.

"History has its eyes on you.."