May 27, 2011

A Magical Intersection: Guest Post by Uma Krishnaswami

I'm always curious about what books people remember vividly from their childhood. For me, the books that were most strongly part of my growing up were the Little House books. I loved those books and still do. 
Uma Krishnaswami, author of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
wrote this beautiful post about one of the books that was instrumental in her early life, growing up in India.

When I was about eight, my mother's sister sent me a gift. It was a picture book version of The Little Mermaid with a translation of the Hans Christian Andersen text that began, "Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower..."  I still remember those words. I had no idea what a cornflower was. We did have them in India, but I didn't know that's what those blue flowers by the road were called. I did know that those words stirred me in some profound and new way. That's what happens when a book shows up in your life at the moment that you're ready for it. It's a magical intersection. It leaves its mark on you forever. 

I'd only ever owned one other picture book before, a 1960 edition of The Three Little Kittens. The Little Mermaid was different. It was in full color, for one thing, and the paper was glossy. Both those elements were completely new to me. I pored over it, read it from cover to cover many times over. If I think about it I can still conjure up the blue-green tones of its illustrations.

But the real reason I remember The Little Mermaid so vividly was that it made me cry. I had no idea that books could do that to a person. I never understood the ending, so mostly I'd stop reading before the last page, which was all about little boys and girls being bad or good, and thus adding or taking away years from the little mermaid's human life. I know now that Andersen rewrote the ending several times, so that the story changed from tragic love to a morality tale. He should have left it the way it was. Even my eight-year-old self knew which way that story arc was pointing. I ended up reading it often enough that the dust-jacket frayed and then the spine gave out, and finally the pages began to fall apart, by which time I was moving on to series titles and ready to leave this book on the shelf. 

I don't think I ever really left it behind, though. Even today, when I get stuck while writing a draft, or the words turn flat, I think about how The Little Mermaid got me squarely in the emotional solar plexus. And even if the story I'm writing may be out to amuse rather than sadden (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything certainly was that way) that memory makes me more aware of my audience. It makes me work harder to get to the emotional space I need to find.

1 comment:

  1. Such a lovely guest post. I remember the first time a book made me cry too!

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