Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Note: Absent the English Teacher

Eppell, John. Absent the English TeacherHarare, Zimbabwe: Weaver Press, 2012.

John Eppell's Absent the English Teacher takes Shakespearean themes and a Shakespeare teacher and combines them in interesting ways.

The novel is set in Zimbabwe, leading me to consider adopting it for my Non-Western Contemporary Literature course (as well as my Modern Shakespearean Fiction course)—and I may do so in another semester.

Our protagonist, George J. George, accidentally hits the Mercedes of the mistress of a high official—her name is Beauticious Nyamayakanuna. To pay off the damage, he becomes her houseboy.

No longer an official English teacher, the white George J. George continues to teach or tudor when he can—or when he is forced to.

I'm offering the first page to give you a flavor of the text and of the character of George:


Later in the novel, George is arrested, but it turns out that the Chief Inspector needs help with Hamlet. Once George gives him a lesson, he can go free. Here's their exchange:

The novel contains a lot of humor—but also considerable bathos. And it questions both the relevancy of a white teacher in a black culture and the significance of Shakespeare in a range of cultures.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

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