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Title – New Boy

Author – Tracy Chevalier

Type – Fiction / Tragedy

Reading Prompt – #18 – A Shakespearean retelling adapted for the modern era

We have all at one time or another stood on the edge of a playground, with the bullies circling, wondering if we are going to be accepted. The thought led Tracy Chevalier to retell William Shakespeare’s Othello in New Boy.

The novel is set in the 1970s in Washington DC. The predominantly white school boys & girls go gaga over little Michael of the band Jackson Five. But when they see Osei, a Ghanaian, in their midst, they feel disgusted. Dee, the most popular girl in the school, offers to help the boy, much to the indignation of the shrewd bully Ian. In a typical Iago fashion, he drives a wedge between the black boy and the white girl, and the book hurtles towards its tragic end before you whisper Desdemona. 

The novel is about 180 pages long, so it’s a quick read. The events span a single day. This is the grouse I’ve against New Boy. Emotions like love, hatred, revenge and jealousy are universal. No wonder the plays of the Bard of Avon still enthral the readers. However, I can’t believe that one day is enough to bring out volatile emotions in young minds. Agreed, Osei had nothing going for him. But how could he trust Ian? Moreover, calling Dee a wh*re was uncalled for. Do you do that to a girl you just met? 

Hardly has the school ended than the teachers show their true colours. I felt a lump in my throat when Mr Brabant used the N word. The novel brings forth the perils of racism in a poignant way. The King of Pop is dead, but George Floyds continue to remind us that #BlackLivesMatter. The Shakespearean tragedy has been well woven into the 20th century. I wish the characters took their time to develop and convince the readers of their follies, foibles and fallacies. 

Do I recommend this book? I leave that to you. If you want breezy and feel-good reads, there are plenty of retellings to look forward to. I liked it, but it left me too saddened. 

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