I just finished reading Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh's novel set right before the outbreak of the Opium Wars. I highly recommend it if you are looking for an engrossing read this summer. It has a range of human rights themes that would satisfy our Loyal Readers interests, including of race, class, economic justice, imperialism, drugs, crime and punishment. Plus a fair bit of action, romance, and a chuckle or three. The book has a large cast of Dickensian characters and I must commend the audiobook performance of Phil Gigante, who single-handedly provides the unique voices for a very large and multicultural cast and handles the novel's challenging vocabulary with aplomb. Unfortunately, the book is really too long for our discussion purposes, but I plan to move right along to the second book in this planned trilogy, River of Smoke, and eagerly await the release of the third volume.
Thinking of Dickens while I read this, I'm willing to bet that many of our Loyal Readers developed a taste for
combining storytelling and social critique from reading Dickens as children. This year marks the 200 year anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth so it's not a bad time to revisit some of those books and see how much they still resonate. Many events and exhibitions are being staged in honor of Dickens this year. For browsing fun check out the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection of Dickens illustrations and manuscripts. Here's a video clip from another from the Free Word Centre exploring the political and social themes in Oliver Twist.
(See Part 2 and Part 3 for more.) These
videos support the Conversations with a Twist: Dickens, Oliver and Social Justice exhibition and include teaching resources on such issues as crime, prison, poverty and child labor. Also of interest is the recent discovery of the workhouse that inspired Oliver Twist as detailed in the new book Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor. The author was interviewed recently on NPR and you can get a peek at the building in this video or zoom in for a Google street view here. These look like great resources to bring to a fresh reading of a childhood favorite!