Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading. Konigsberg.

The intertwining stories of A View From Saturday are like the complicated movements of a fugue, or the pieces of an intricate puzzle that come apart to reveal a secret at its heart before coming back together. Four children - Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian - come together to form the sixth grade Academic Bowl team for Mrs. Olinski's class, defeating the other sixth-grade homeroom teams, the seventh grade teams, the eight grade teams, the district teams, all the way to the state championship bowl. This final championship match forms the spine of the story, the frame for the seperate stories that takes us into the past and shows how these four children came together to become what they call The Souls.

The first question asked at the championship bowl is what is the meaning of the word calligraphy and from what language does it derive? Noah is the one who presses the buzzer, and his is the first story we are told, of how he went down to Florida to visit his grandparents while his parents went on a cruise. It was there a friend taught him that calligraphy meant beautiful writing in Greek and that the first steps in preparing to write - filling a pen properly with ink from a bottle instead of using a ball-point pen - were not preparation for the beginning but the beginning itself. I think of those words whenever I find myself arranging my ingredients for a meal or in the lab as I lay pipets and bottles of media out in readiness.

The next question takes us to Nadia's story, who goes down to Florida to visit her recently divorced father and newly re-married grandfather (whose wedding story is told in Noah's chapter). Angry at her parents for being divorced, angry at her grandfather and new step-grandmother, angry that she now has to divide her life between Epiphany, New York, where her mother grew up and has returned to live, and Florida, where her father remains, it takes a night of rescuing sea turtle hatchlings from a storm to realize that, like the turtles, she will have to commute up and down the coast, but there will always be someone to give her a lift between switches.

It is during Ethan's story that the four Souls come together, and it is because of Julian, newly arrived in Epiphany. Julian, whose father opens a B&B where the four children meet for tea, Julian who was born on the high seas and educated in England, who says that he is not American as apple pie, but American as pizza pie, for he did not originate there, but he is here to stay. (I, like Julian, did not originate here, either, and I am here to stay, so we are two of a kind). Together the Four Souls win each step that leads them to the final Academic Bowl, answer each question with an absolute certainty, a confidence that is shared by their teacher Mrs. Olinski, who does not understand why she chose these four children as her team but comes to understand that she had made the right decision.

Whenever I read this I feel as though I see a little part of myself in each of the children, that I am following them on each of their journeys, that I take what they have learned with me. That like Mrs. Olinski I have been put together again, in a way that all the king's horses and all the king's men could not do for Humpty Dumpty.

Konigsberg, E. L. The View From Saturday. Aladdin, 1998. pp 4, 10, 85, 159.

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