Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Composition

After finishing Deogratias, I picked up The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta. Like Deogratias, The Composition deals with heavy material: dictatorships. Pedro lives in an unnamed Latin American country ruled by a dictator. His parents listen religiously to the radio, and Pedro watches neighbors taken away by the military. The military even invades his school, requesting students to write a composition on their families.

Although both deal with serious matters, The Composition could not be more different from Deogratias. The Composition is a picture book aimed at children; ultimately, though, it, too, is a book for adults. It contains no strong language or strong images. There is nothing openly offensive or potentially disturbing to children--and that is the flaw of the book. The significance of the story--the significance of the situation Pedro finds himself--is so subtle I suspect most American children would not catch or understand Skarmeta's meaning. Only an adult would truly understand the terror the dictatorship could inflict on Pedro and his family.

(I must acknowledge that Skarmeta is Chilean and the book was first published in Venezuela, so American children were not the original target audience.)

Dictatorships and genocides are both heavy topics--topics that should be addressed and written about. Deogratias and The Composition represent extremes in content and style. Deogratias is so bold, so in-your-face, that it risks offending the reader, turning her away. In contrast, The Composition is so subtle, so muted that Skarmeta risks losing the significance of the topic.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

This is really a children's book? What age level? And what was the author trying to acheive if he was toning down the real meaning?