More Multiculturalism in Literature

We live in a multicultural world, so it’s great when that’s reflected in literature. An increasing number of books have characters of different races and ethnicities interacting — often on a more equal basis than they might have interacted in older fiction.

(Actually, some older fiction also has surprisingly decent multicultural aspects amid the many false assumptions of white superiority, which I’ll get to later in this post.)

But the multicultural interactions in relatively recent literature are hardly always nirvana. There is love and hate, open-mindedness and narrow-mindedness, harmony and conflict, understanding and lack of understanding. Racism continues to often rear its ugly head, even as some characters are more enlightened than their ancestors might have been.

I just read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which is not only funny as hell but has an amazing mosaic of characters. Among them are Samad, a brilliant but insufferable Bengali Muslim from Bangladesh whose best friend is a white Englishman (Archie) who’s married to a black woman (Clara). The variety of cultures depicted in the mostly London-set novel is exhilarating, even when it’s more like a clash of cultures.

A later Smith novel — the compelling On Beauty — finds much material to mine in the marriage of an African-American woman (Kiki) to an insecure/annoying white professor (Howard) from England who’s teaching in America, and how that couple relates to another couple: a Trinidadian (Monty) who’s a professor in England, and his ill wife (Carlene).

Plus, in both On Beauty and White Teeth, it’s fascinating how the children of the main characters become (sort of) Americanized or anglicized. The immigrant vs. second-generation experience and all that.

It’s no surprise that Smith is the biracial daughter of a Jamaican mother and English father; the increased multiculturalism in relatively recent literature is partly a reflection of thankfully increased author diversity.

Jhumpa Lahiri also finds multicultural fiction gold in The Namesake and The Lowland, both of which feature Bengali characters who migrate to the United States. They and/or their children of course interact with white Americans and in some cases have romantic relationships with them, while other characters continue to identify mostly with their country of origin.

Then there’s Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, in which a biracial anti-apartheid activist in South Africa has an affair with a white social worker; Lee Child’s Make Me, in which Jack Reacher teams up professionally and romantically with a Chinese-American woman; and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in which the multicultural elements include Harry and Cho Chang dating at one point.

The multicultural connections in relatively recent novels obviously include more than romantic ties/angles. In Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You, for instance, the African-American friend/real-estate coworker (Brenda) of the white protagonist (Maggie) has political aspirations in Alabama. Billie Letts’ Where the Heart Is includes African-American (Moses) and Native-American (Benny) characters who befriend the white protagonist (Novalee) when she’s abandoned in Oklahoma.

As one can see from the above examples, people of color are frequently — though not always — the supporting rather than lead characters in multicultural literature written by white authors. Too much of that sidekick phenomenon, which is also often the case in movies.

While there’s plenty of blatant white superiority in older novels — often reflecting the narrow-mindedness of the authors themselves — there are some nice exceptions. For instance, James Fenimore Cooper depicts various Native-Americans with surprising tolerance in his five 19th-century “Leatherstocking” novels (including The Last of the Mohicans), and I loved the deep friendship between the Native-American Chingachgook and the white Natty Bumppo.

Also, black or biracial characters are prominent, portrayed positively, and shown interacting (or trying to interact) with white characters on a fairly equal basis in 19th-century novels such as Armadale by Wilkie Collins and Georges by Alexandre Dumas (who was biracial himself). But those protagonists also face major difficulties living in a mostly white society.

Black-white interactions are even more fraught in decades-ago books such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Margaret Mitchell’s often-racist Gone With the Wind, Carson McCullers’ more-understanding The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Richard Wright’s Native Son — though Bigger Thomas in that last book is eventually befriended and represented by a white (communist) lawyer.

Then there are John Steinbeck’s works, which rarely featured black characters but often featured Hispanic ones — as in The Wayward Bus (driver Juan) and Tortilla Flat (most of the book’s ensemble). Also, Asian-American housekeeper Lee is arguably the most interesting person in East of Eden as he interacts with the white Trask family he works for and with the mostly white California world he inhabits.

It’s almost another topic entirely, but there’s plenty of multicultural interaction in sci-fi and fantasy — or maybe it’s more like multi-planet or multi-categories-of-beings interaction. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, for instance, we have hobbits, dwarfs, elves, orcs, wizards, humans, etc.!

What are your favorite books with multicultural elements? How important is that kind of diversity to you as a reader?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished and am now rewriting/polishing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson. 

 

77 thoughts on “More Multiculturalism in Literature

  1. Dave, I saw where you and bebe were talking about the Nobel Prize for Literature being announced this week. I’m sure you’ve already heard that Bob Dylan won it, which has shocked many people, including myself. I’m a fan of his, at least of his early work, but I can’t think of anything that he’s done since “Blood on the Tracks.” I tried to read his memoir, “Chronicles, Vol.1,” but didn’t make it even half-way through before eventually tossing it when I moved. If f I were going to nominate a songwriter, it would be Leonard Cohen, who at least published a whole book of poetry as well as some great songs. What do you think about Dylan?

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  2. A few books I read recently: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian about an Indian who leaves the reservation for an all-white school whose only other Indian is the school mascot,
    The House on Mango Street is a classroom classic of a Latina girl in a white society, I also liked the Joy Luck Club– a sprawling family epic as Chinese women try to fit into American society?

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  3. From my youth, long departed: The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N– an irrepressible immigrant wins friends and a bit of respect.

    Onion John– a mysterious old man who frightens townspeople but not a boy turns out to be an immigrant without much command of English.

    And hey, what about Queequeg and Ishmael? (my spellcheck function wants me to substitute ‘Squegee’ for the first name, but as I recall, that’s the moniker of a famous tabloid photographer).

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    • Queequeg and Ishmael — definitely! Heck, they even shared a room before going out to sea. Also, if I’m remembering right, there were several other crew members of color on the Pequod.

      And Melville’s “Benito Cereno” short story (or novella?) has some intense black-white intrigue and clashes.

      Thanks, jhNY, for mentioning the other two books, too!

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      • Yes, there are crew members of color on board, most poignantly in the figure of Pip.

        Then there’s the cultural contrast/hypocrisy of the Quaker ship owners, who, being peaceful men and women, kindly send their employees out to murder whales for money, employees mostly too ungoverned and ungovernable to conform to religious ideals of any kind.

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        • Interesting — I hadn’t thought much about that. Obviously, the Quakers wanted to make lots of money, and, as you said, didn’t care about the cruelty involved in doing so and that they were employing “heathens” to do the dirty work. The Quakers’ version of “Moby-Dick” might have begun with “Call me hypocritical.”

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  4. Last week, having put it off for many days, I finally slogged through the ending of She, by H. Rider Haggard— through no fault in the book; rather, the fault was in myself: I could not bear to read of the death of Ayesha, the 2200 year old queen who ruled over the ruins of the ancient civilization of Kor and over its present-day benighted denizens.

    She, as her subjects referred to her, is short for She Who Must Be Obeyed, and given her powers, she must be, or else. But what a charmer! What a fabulously impossible character! Her beauty is without parallel on earth, she can kill with a touch, and as she has spent much of her quasi-eternal life in musing and philosophizing, she is wise as her years are long. Her culture is a culture of one– herself.

    I considered employing Haggard’s book in last week’s discussion of emotionally repressed characters. After all, the narrator and his young charge are stereotypically Oxford types, and have hardly known anything of the world beyond books and university life, including women.

    A mysterious inheritance sweeps up them both in a wild adventure of exploration involving shipwreck, animal attack, attempted murder, mosquitoes and disease-bearing swamp air– and their encounter with Ayesha, which changes them both forever– the older man, known in the ruins of Kor as The Baboon, falls in hopeless love with her, as does his ward, known as The Lion. Only The Lion’s love is not hopeless, as he is, the latest of an unbroken line whose first father was once long ago the love object of the young She. They will, after her death, remain helplessly besmitten for the remainder of their lives.

    Pretty good example of emotional repression blooming and crystallizing (to be Stendahlian about it) in contact with an embodiment of feminine power, I thought. But I chose to write about other things last week.

    Then came this week’s topic, and I thought: multi-culturalism? Have I got a book for you!

    Guess it’s sort of like the problem with being good with a hammer: every problem starts to resemble a nail if you’re not careful. But I’m throwing caution overboard here, still basking in the glow of this classic adventure novel.

    H. Rider Haggard’s She, at the very least, concerns themes of multi-culturalism AND emotional repression!

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    • Wow — what a dazzling description, jhNY. Thanks! Sounds like an amazing book.

      Ayesha more than 2,000 years old? That certainly tops the aged characters in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” Pete Hamill’s “Forever,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” etc.

      And I know what you mean about that hammer and nail. So many novels have elements that can fit into various discussions — about multiculturalism, emotional repression, etc.

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      • There is much of the good old imperial destiny and white superiority built into the very bones of this wild tale, but one cuts through that old stuff like an explorer with a machete so as to reach the fantastic vistas of Kor and the land of the surly Amahaggar, ruled over by She, an ageless philosopher queen of awesome power and mentality and devotion.

        She is currently my favorite female out of books, driving all pretenders and upstarts before her without remorse or hesitation, as is her way. I foresee a lifetime, or what remains to me of one, of prostration to her holy memory. ( Tongue in cheek, sure, but only a little.)

        Composed at the height of empire, delivered to an eager world of readers habituated to wild adventure by Burton, Stanley, Gordon, etc. (to say nothing of fictional practitioners), She is a captivating novel, dressed in footnotes, translations out of ancient tongues and reproductions of the scratchings on an ancient potsherd. It apes the scholarly works of its age for the purposes of thrilling entertainment, and mostly, it thrillingly entertains.

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        • Thanks, jhNY! Another deluxe description. Favorite female character — wow!

          I just read about the novel on Wikipedia, and it seems it has sold more than 100 million copies since its 1887 publication — white “superiority” and all. Heck, some books are great tales, feature great characters, etc., despite being politically/ideologically worthy of some disdain. I’ll definitely see if my library has it before the year is done.

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  5. Hi Dave,

    Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series (which I may have mentioned once or twice before ;-)) includes a few multicultural relationships. The main dude is white. King himself has said that he always pictured a young Clint Eastwood while writing him. The main dude, through some magicky hocusy pocusy stuff brings some people from our world into his world. The first person that he brings through is a young white man from New York in the 1980s. After that is a black woman from New York in the 1960s. Despite the fact that the young man and slightly older woman come from the same city, their different times, and their different skins, make it seem like they come from different worlds. A part of her is incredibly racist, believing that all white men have it in for her. The main dude doesn’t care about the colour of her skin, and the guy from New York keeps trying to convince her that things are better in the ‘80s than they are in the ‘60s (though he also tries to convince her that an actor from the ‘30s is currently president which she just refuses to believe!). It’s an interesting dynamic that I think King is very successful at writing.

    On a bit of a tangent, they’re about to adapt parts of the “Dark Tower” into a movie, and sadly, they’re making the main dude black. I know I’m not on my own in thinking that it’s just going to mess with the dynamic of their little group way too much. Though I have heard rumours that the powers that be would be reluctant to cast a black female lead, so they’ve had to swap their skin colours. Maybe sexism is more acceptable than racism.

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    • Thank you, Susan! Stephen King is definitely decent on the multicultural front in a number of his novels, including his stand-alone books. One can tell he is a liberal. I should really try the “Dark Tower” series someday — your excellent description makes it sound VERY intriguing.

      Interesting about the “Dark Tower” film. The movie biz is often sexist and racist, and it’s hard to know which that biz is more guilty of. It doesn’t help that Hollywood has a hugely disproportionate number of white-male studio execs, producers, directors, and screenwriters. 😦

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      • It’s quite sad to see the treatment that “The Dark Tower” is getting, especially as I think the books are so good. My description doesn’t come close to doing it justice. Though I know they’re not for everyone, I really do recommend them. The first one is not great, but the second and third are two of my favourite stories of all time. I personally think the series goes downhill in quality after book 3, but by then you’re completely committed, and just have to know what happens!

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        • So often it seems that screen versions of books don’t do the books justice (changing important things, leaving out important things, making the characters more glamorous/better-looking, etc.). 😦

          And thanks, Sue, for your further thoughts on “The Dark Tower” series!

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  6. One older novel that comes to mind is E. M. Forster’s “A Passage to India”, published in the 1920’s. This book explores the interaction of the English Colonials with the natives of India, and, to a lesser extent, between Muslim Indians and Hindu Indians. The novel explores the question of whether the English and the Indians can form genuine friendships – given the cultural differences, and the misunderstandings that arise from these differences. Several of the main characters try to become cross-cultural friends, but events arise that put these friendships to a test. The main sympathetic character, a Muslim physician named Dr. Aziz, spends much of the novel developing a close friendship with an Englishman, but ultimately concludes that until India is independent, such a friendship is not possible.

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    • Thanks, drb! From your outstanding description, “A Passage to India” sounds well worth reading — on many levels. I’ve certainly heard of that novel (and its film version) for decades, but have never gotten to it. Now on my list!

      (BTW, I took out Anthony Burgess’ “The Kingdom of the Wicked” from the library after you and others recommended some of that author’s non-“A Clockwork Orange” work a few weeks ago. Hope to get to it by the end of October.)

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  7. Great discussion. Sorry I’m so late getting here. Secret Life of Bees is one of my favorites, as are Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Amy Tan’s examinations of inter-racial relation/friendships. Three I didn’t see mentioned are Snow Falling on Cedars (Japanese-American and white American), The Green Mile by Stephen King and House of Sand and Fog (Iranian and American characters).

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    • Thank you, energywriter, for naming several books very relevant to this topic!

      As I mentioned to Kat Lib elsewhere in the comments area, “The Secret Life of Bees” is definitely a near-future, must-read for me. I just put “Snow Falling on Cedars” on my list, too, after reading a Wikipedia summary spurred by your mention of that David Guterson book.

      “House of Sand and Fog” is an excellent, VERY intense novel — and I’m a great fan of various books by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, and Stephen King.

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  8. Wonderful Dave that you read ” White Teeth”, what a fascinating novel, I still have the book perhaps i should read it again. Years ago PBS had the series with great cast.
    Yes “The Namesake” and “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri, also “Interpreter of Maladies”. I did buy “Unaccustomed Earth” from Library book sale , although I don`t what it was about I have not read it yet.

    Then ” Make Me” , on powerful Chinese American women as you mention.
    The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck , The novel, which dramatizes family life in a Chinese village before World War I. She was awarded Nobel Prize in 1932.

    Speaking of the Nobel Prize that should be happening any day now if not already.

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    • Thank you, bebe! I didn’t know there had been a “White Teeth” mini-series! That would be VERY interesting to watch.

      “The Good Earth” is a great example of a multicultural novel. And when it comes to the Chinese experience in America, there are the works of Amy Tan (“The Joy Luck Club,” “The Kitchen God’s Wife,” etc.) that I forgot to mention in my column.

      Yes, the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced soon. I wonder if it will be a well-known author or a little-known (but deserving) one. I’d love for Margaret Atwood to win one of these days. Is there a particular author you’d like to see win?

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      • White Teeth was in PBS masterpiece series in early 2000, remember being glueed to the whole series.
        Okay news alert…was watching tv and commercial was Jack Reacher movie to be released on October 21 st..starring you know who. 😉

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        • Not so long after the novel came out in 2000 — when Zadie Smith was only 24!

          Ha and yikes — less than three weeks to the Cruise-as-Reacher movie. Maybe it will be released on Opposite Day, when Reacher becomes 5’6″ rather than 6’5″… 🙂

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          • NYT:
            JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK Tom Cruise returns as Reacher, the super-aggressive former Army cop who wanders the country with a scowl and scary weapons, making life miserable for bad guys. This time he’s suspected of a long-ago homicide. Cobie Smulders is an Army major accused of espionage. Edward Zwick, who worked with Mr. Cruise on “The Last Samurai,” is the director.

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  9. When I first read this post, I couldn’t think of anything I’ve read in recent months that really applied. Several others have mentioned novels that have racial content and those certainly qualify for this multicultural discussion. Then I thought of the books I read in the last year by African American writers (‘Song of Solomon’ by Toni Morrison, ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ by James Baldwin, ‘The Warmth of Other Sun’s by Isabel Wilkerson, ‘Beside the Troubled Waters by Sonnie Hereford III, ‘The Agitator’s Daughter’ by Sheryll Cashin), along with Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood Bible’, which deals with cultural, racial and spiritual collisions occurring simultaneously as it deals with white Americans in a predominantly black African Congo–that’s about as multicultural as you can get.

    Perhaps the most unique juxtaposition of cultures that I encountered is in the autobiographical graphic novel, ‘Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White’ by Lila Quintero Weaver. This is a memoir of a childhood in Alabama in the middle of the racial turmoil in the mid-60’s, from the standpoint of an Argentinian immigrant girl dropped right in the middle of a confluence of conflict between white and black, leaving her in an even smaller minority, a puzzler for racist whites of the area. I usually hesitate to promote my own reviews, but here’s a link to my Goodreads review from last year, which can explain better than I can at the moment the significance of this impressive novel:

    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1341862606?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

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      • Thank you, Brian! First of all, a terrific review by you of “Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White.” Sounds like a riveting/disturbing book. Feel free to link to your reviews whenever you like. You’ve never written one in a less-than-excellent way!

        And you named several other books that really fit this topic. Coincidentally, I also mentioned “The Poisonwood Bible” in a reply to Kat Lib before seeing your comments. Novels like “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” mostly take place within the black community, yet there are definitely interactions with white characters.

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  10. Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” is a poignant story. Takes place in Mississippi in 1962,segregationist south. The help hired for family are integral to the livelihood,sustenance of the children they help raise and nuture on many levels. Shows how interracial relationships can be more powerful than biological ones.

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    • Thanks, Michele! Well said! I haven’t read “The Help” — I’m hesitant to read novels by white authors that are partly about the black experience* — but it sounds like you liked it a lot.

      *I suppose I shouldn’t generalize. I thought Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was wonderful (and that Tom was a positive and non-stereotypical character despite his reputation otherwise), but I was not very fond of William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” If I had read that novel without knowing who wrote it, I would have 100% guessed it was by a white author.

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    • This made me think of a scene in “Gone With the Wind” where some snooty northern women are talking about the black man, and how he should be free (even if he doesn’t want to be) and he should work and vote (even if he doesn’t want to), but these same women are horrified when Scarlett suggests letting a black woman look after their children. The blacks were good enough to be fought over, but absolutely could not be trusted with children.

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  11. Dave, what a thorough and thoughtful analysis. I am not as well-read as you are, and don’t have any other multicultural book titles to contribute. In fact, I am finishing up reading an old tattered copy of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, which I found in a dusty box in the basement. Although Babbitt offers a look at liberalism vs. conservatism, the book is about conformity and how it can both liberate and destroy. Perhaps conformity in literature will be a future blog topic!

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    • Thank you, Lisa, for the kind words and the well-said comment! “Babbitt” IS a great novel, as are several of Sinclair Lewis’ other books. He was so skillful at depicting conformity — and making it interesting. As with “Babbitt,” his “Main Street” is an excellent example of that.

      One (late-career) Lewis novel I haven’t read is “Kingsblood Royal,” which apparently is his most multicultural work (the protagonist discovers he has some African-American ancestry).

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  12. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite books with multicultural elements? —

    Looking backward, I am a fan of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” and Jack Kerouac’s “The Subterraneans”: They are quite different in their explicit approaches to multiculturalism but quite similar in their implicit acknowledgments of it as a basic fact of life, at least in this corner of the multiverse. Looking forward, I anticipate becoming very soon a fan of Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred,” which I expect assimilating in the wake of my current rereading of Mark Twain’s “The Gilded Age,” another of my favorite books with multicultural elements.

    — How important is that kind of diversity to you as a reader? —

    It’s fundamental, obviously. During the course of a fictional mock trial pitting a hypothetical Clarence Darrow against a hypothetical William Jennings Bryan, both advocates might actually stipulate to agreement on this one point — in their own ways, of course — with the former saying, “Environments containing species that are distantly related to each other are more productive than those containing species that are closely related to each other,” and the latter saying, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Thank you, J.J.! Excellent comment, including that great Clarence Darrow/William Jennings Bryan paragraph!

      I think you’ll be very impressed with “Kindred,” which I finally read earlier this year. The African-American protagonist is married to a white man in 1970s California, and when she’s thrust back in time to the Antebellum South she of course has (usually horrific) interactions with white people. In that respect, any novel with slavery elements — “Roots,” “Beloved,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” “The Chaneysville Incident,” etc. — is going to have multicultural elements we can all do without.

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      • — Excellent comment, including that great Clarence Darrow/William Jennings Bryan paragraph! —

        Props to the naturalist Charles Darwin and the godspeller John, respectively.

        — I think you’ll be very impressed with “Kindred” —

        I suspect so, and I will owe it all to you and Ana of the Geddy Lee Fans: Thanks!

        P.S.: One already impressive thing is that “Kindred” is Philip K. Dick’s middle name.

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        • Wow — didn’t know that “Kindred” was Philip K. Dick’s (unusual) middle name!

          When you recommended Philip K.’s work a while ago, I ended up reading the apocalyptic “Dr. Bloodmoney” — which had an expertly depicted multicultural cast.

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  13. Hi Dave. The first book that came to mind was “The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd. The white 14 year-old Lily doesn’t get along with her father and thinks there was something suspicious about her mother’s death. They live in South Carolina during the 60’s, and her maid/surrogate mother ends up in jail trying to vote for first time ever. Lily breaks Rosaleen out of jail and they take off to stay with the black Boatwright sisters (August, May and June). From them Lily learns many things, including bee-keeping, and I fell in love with them all. Although I’m a non-believer, I enjoyed reading about their religious worship. I told my sister who had recommended this book that I really wanted to live with these amazing women, as well as having a “Black Madonna” (which I’ve not been able to find. but perhaps I will someday). 🙂

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    • By the way, I’ve had Phil Ochs’ “The Bells” running non-stop in my head since we talked about him yesterday. The most I can usually remember is “bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, etc. Plus who has ever used the word “tintinnabulation,” at least twice in a song?

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      • Ha, Kat Lib! “The Bells” IS a catchy song. And, yes, “tintinnabulation” is not a typical song word. For whatever reason, “love,” “hello,” etc., are used more often… 🙂

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    • Kat Lib, “The Secret Life of Bees” is a great addition to this topic, and a great description by you of that novel! It sounds like a wonderful, memorable book. A few weeks ago, another commenter (“energywriter”) also recommended “Bees,” so it’s definitely higher than high on my to-read list. 🙂

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      • I’m not sure if I ever the novel, “Anna and King of Siam,” a semi-fictional biographical account of a British schoolteacher (Anna Leonowens), by Margaret Landon, but I’m sure most people would know the movies that were made from the book. Of course, the most famous one is “The King and I” with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. There also was a musical prior to that with Gertrude Lawrence and Brynner that appeared on Broadway for such a long time. There was another film before that starring Rex Harrison as Mongkut (as much as I like Harrison, I can’t quite see him in this role). I’ve seen another film not all that long ago starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, “Anna and King.”

        Well, I finally got rid of the “bells, bells”, but only to be replaced by “Shall We Dance” 🙂

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        • Dave, I’ve been having some problems with commenting. I don’t know if it’s my laptop or at your end. I wanted to add to the last line in the first paragraph “Anna and the King,” which was OK but not great.

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          • Thanks, Kat Lib, for the addition of that “which was OK but not great” line.

            The commenting seems to be okay from my vantage point, but, then again, I’m writing replies rather than starting conversations. I hope the commenting problems for you go away!

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          • Kat Lib, I tried to post my comment it vanished, so I saved it and tried to post again and it did post just now. Same has happened to me long ago and that time it was just gone.

            BTW how is your sole mate ” Willow” coming along ? I am sure you two are having great quality time 🙂

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            • bebe, Willow is doing quite well; she gets her last shot for the mange tomorrow. She is very attached to me; my friend who was staying with me for a few days starting singing “Me and My Shadow.” It’s very true, as she is constantly on my lap or following me around. Good thing she’s so adorable, but it makes it hard to get anything done!

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        • Ha, Kat Lib! From one “earworm” to another. 🙂

          “Anna and King of Siam,” “The King and I,” and other versions of that story are an excellent example of cross-cultural interactions of the mostly positive kind.

          Not really related to the above, but other cross-cultural titles that just occurred to me are Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” (mostly positive interactions between Mexicans and white Americans living in Mexico), Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” and Paul Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast” (“ugly American” attitudes by the respective fathers who travel to Africa and Central America), Wole Soyinka’s “The Interpreters” (set in Nigeria, with a few white characters amid the many African characters), J.M.G. Le Clezio’s “Desert” (Moroccan woman in France), and Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky” (American couple in North Africa).

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          • Dave, in the same vein, there is Doris Lessing’s first novel “The Grass is Singing” about a white woman in southern Rhodesia who is murdered by her black house servant (which we find out about in a newspaper clipping at the beginning of the book, then get the story of her life which led up to this event). I’m not sure if I’d recommend this novel, but I found it interesting because of my fascination with Africa, especially the interaction of white settlers with native Africans.

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            • That sounds like an intense book, Kat Lib. What a plot for a debut novel!

              Such a shame that the ultra-racistly-governed Southern Rhodesia became what’s basically a dictator-controlled Zimbabwe under Mugabe rather than a real democracy.

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    • Thanks for that suggestion, Bill! There must be a number of novels with interfaith relations (and relationships), so I will put on my thinking cap to see if I can find enough of them to write a column. Off the top of my head, Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” (mentioned in the column), George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe”…

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