03 March 2008

on the hand-copying of Animal Farm

I haven't read Animal Farm since I taught it two years ago, but the other day I found myself thinking about the book, and recalling two teachers from Belarus who visited my old school. They traveled with half a dozen of their students to NYC as part of an exchange program with our school and stayed for about a week and a half.

While they were here I was teaching Orwell's Animal Farm. The guy teacher, whose names escapes me unfortunately, sat and listened for the entire day, as I covered the same material three times. As a courtesy I gave him a copy of the book so he could follow along with the passages we were reading. He came back for some, or all, of every day we discussed the book. He never joined the conversation but spent the entire time copying the text into his notebook.

When I found out what he was doing I urged him to take the book with him, to take copies enough for his students, even. But he said that he'd never get it out of the airport and that he would probably get in trouble for trying, but having it buried in his notebook meant that he had the book. He couldn't believe such a book existed and I quietly marveled to myself that he didn't already know about it. And then marveled at what I take for granted.

I think of him often, head down in concentration, one hand writing away and the other marking his place. And I wonder where his notebook is, who has read it, and how it's simmering somewhere over there. Waiting.


Olman Feelyus said...

That's a fantastic anecdote and a strong reminder of how much freedom we have and how much it is possible to lose.

When you don't have it, copying an entire book (albeit a small one) by hand seems well worth the effort, I imagine. Probably kind of enjoyable, considering you are reading the forbidden words at the same time.

beemused said...

thanks for sharing that story, J. funny enough, just a couple of days ago, I read Animal Farm (for the first time!) while stuck at home with the flu.

it's unfortunate I was never taught Orwell at school, as Animal Farm would've been really illuminating for a kid. it'd be interesting to hear how your students responded to this book.