For my RL book club we are reading Helen Simonson’s general fiction novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s about an older, retired Engglish gentleman who knows what’s honorable, proper, and right. He knows what should or shouldn’t be done – within the culture he has always known. Then he finds he is attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani English widow who owns the local store. Although she was born and raised in England, she is still foreign to the neighbors because she’s different. The Major learns a lot about himself and his neighbors in this gentle novel as he turns from what he “always knew” to what he knows is right. I finished it last week.
In contrast, I am now reading a tween to young adult futuristic dystopic science fiction novel called The Boy From Ilysies by Pearl North. It is one I received for review after I had enjoyed the first book in the series, Libyrinth. Po, the main character, is the only man in the Libyrinth from a matriarchal country. He now lives among people who consider all of themselves equal Other men around him come from a patriarchal society. Po keeps making cultural mistakes. He doesn’t understand the others’ cultural mores, nor is it easy for him to believe he is equal to a woman. He keeps deferring to them even when they don’t want that. Po has to learn a whole new way of living – a new culture. (Of course, since this is a young adult adventure book as well, he has to end up on a quest to save the Libyrinth.)
The odds of anyone reading and mentioning these two books in the same breath are slim to none. Yet here I am, struck by their similarities. When life around us changes, we must adapt or break. Both Major Pettigrew and Po must change their thinking and adapt to improve their own lives. They are both products of their culture, breeding, and upbringing.
I hope there’s not a lesson there I’m about to have to learn…