This is a very interesting and thought-provoking novel set in 1828 in the American south at the time of a slave rebellion. The narrator is a woman slave owner who is herself enslaved by her marriage and patriarchial society. Nevertheless, she is an unsmpathetic character who is totally self-centred and self-serving, who never once expresses any human understanding or sympathy for "her" slave.
This is the 69th of a series of titles selected by writer Yann Martel to provide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to encourage an appreciation of the arts and literature in particular in the PM, and to also help Harper with his stillness and thoughtfulness. Martel has regularly sent books from a wide range of literary traditions to Harper. Martel has devoted a Web site to the reading list and his kind, considered and often poignant covering letters with each volume. (All of his letters can be read at http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/. They are also now in printed form, in a book entitled, not surprisingly, What is Stephen Harper Reading? )
Martel's thoughtful persistence in this quest, started in April 2007, is both heartwrenching and highly commendable. He has never received a direct acknowledgement from Harper, and only some fairly form-letter responses from Harper's staff. He has also received a response from Industry Minister Tony Clement, but it wasn't directly related to any of Martel's book selections.
Set in the American South in the early 1800s, Property by Valerie Martin focuses on the moral struggles of Manon, a woman whose husband and family own slaves. Manon is in effect enslaved by not being able to rebel again this reprehensible practice.
Martel's words in his cover letter to Harper are wise and telling, "Manon is unremitting in her aversion to hypocrisy, her own and that of the people around her, but she never manages to improve herself. She is lucidly corrupt, her heart poisoned and her life bitter. It makes for a fascinating story, one that is contemporary, even eternal, because the nature of systems continues to be contagious, for better and for worse. An educational system can improve us, for example, while an economic system can corrupt us."
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