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Monday, February 15, 2010

Taking the road less travelled

Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author: Mark Twain
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s harder reviewing a book that has been reviewed and scrutinised by master critics hundreds of times, moreover one that’s considered the greatest American novel. Thankfully, every man has an opinion and every reviewer gives their opinion whether you take or leave it.
Anyhow, I was in S.2 when I first read the simplified version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was a novice in the appreciation of literature but I remember thinking it was a witty book and laughing my lungs out at the funniness of Huck and the adorable clumsiness of Jim!

Well, I read the book a second time recently – this time in its unabridged version and what a read! I now understand what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said that all of American literature comes from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Huck’s escape from his cruel and alcoholic father and his adventures down the Mississippi evoke boyhood reminiscences of when we would shirk school and go floating on banana stumps or on empty jerrycans down the village river.
Huck and Jim are on the run. This white kid and black slave come to share an inseparable friendship; one that arguably embodies a harmonious relationship and co-existence that Mark Twain wished for all humanity.

When Huck defies the moral protocol of the time and chooses to go “to hell” rather than betray his friend Jim back into slavery, then we know the author is all for a conscience that tells right from wrong, contrary to rules of convention or obeying laws that are hypocritical in nature.

A friend grumbled about Jim’s “broken English”, saying it slows down the reading and therefore foils enjoyment of the book. But he forgets that part of the distinction of this masterpiece lies in Mark Twain’s reliance on colloquial American speech of the time, just like society writers in most of our daily newspapers colour their columns with local slang.

Other readers have issues with the ubiquitous use of the word “nigger”, arguing that it smacks of the slavery, discrimination and ugliness that all of Africa would rather forget. But Huck’s use of “nigger” even in his conversations with Jim carries no disturbing innuendos and is not used with disrespect just like a friend would meet me along the streets and say, “Hey nigger, where’ve you been?”

My only qualm is the return of Tom later in the novel. The role he plays seems insignificant; he’s truly a shadow of the crafty and hilarious prankster we know in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This however should not matter because the hero of the book remains Huck, who fills us with nostalgia of particularly the carefree days of growing up. He makes something resonate in us all as he struggles to make a decision that makes him a man when he takes the road less travelled and sticks with his friend Jim to the very end.

--Sunday Monitor, February 14, 2010