Sunday, 25 May 2014

Oscar and the Lady in Pink – book review

Prompted by the Soulmate, I read the book, which had recently gained the status of set book for fourth-year primary school pupils. The book, written in 2002 and published in Poland for the first time in 2004 (hence I had no chance to read it at the age of ten), tells a story last days of ten-year-old boy terminally ill with cancer. The Polish version can be read online; I encourage you do so, as the novel is short and reading it from cover to cover will not take you more than an hour and a half.

I find it hard to judge, whether such poignant story is an appropriate choice for children entering their teenage years, but beyond all doubt seeing the world with eyes of a boy who knows he is doomed to pass away soon is a heart-rending experience. How Oscar (the main character) perceives the little world surrounding him is a mixture of naïve childishness (he still knows very little about life) and astounding maturity (going down with probable incurable disease and then getting by with death sentence imprinted at the back of his mind leaves its mark on Oscar).

Induced by a volunteer worker (the Lady in Pink), he lives through his last days as if each day stood for a whole decade. He goes through adolescence, early adulthood, middle-age slump and old age and discerns ups and down of each of those periods from a child’s perspective.

The book broaches issues pivotal in lives for all of us: God (the boy’s parents are atheists and so bring up their son, while the Lady in Pink tries to introduce him to the Deity), priorities in life (find out what is really important, when you have so few days left), death (as inevitable part of life), sympathy (when every day to see people suffering and dying, it reshapes your perception of life and sensitivity to human suffering and death), relationships with other people (parents, helpless in confrontation with their son’s illness).

The boy is angry with his parents who simply don’t know how to cope with his illness, how to behave when they visit him, they approach him unnaturally, smile artificially what winds Oscar up. Finally, when he frankly cheers them up by saying “we will all die, but I’ll die first”, something breaks through. The novel as no other taught me not to mess with parents, as if they love a child, they want all the best for it, despite not knowing how to show it.

Despite being faced with a deeply moving story, I managed not to weep. I was close to tears, but held them back. My childhood was free of such distress, but after reading this I slightly fear such cruel fate can meet my child – and what then? Would I have enough strength to carry such burden?

PS. The inevitable moment I referred to on 29 January 2011 (see last paragraph) came to a pass today. General Jaruzelski died. Are we in for a political clash?

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