Friday, August 3, 2007

The Kitchen Madonna

Something terrible is happening to me. I am losing my mind. I must be developing an early-onset case of dementia.

Today, I put my pants on inside-out, completely forgot to water the lawn, and almost missed my appointment with my Afghani pupil. And those are only the things I know I forgot to do. There could be countless other things I haven’t remembered.

Oh yes, I also forgot until the last moment that I have a blog to write. I am simply hopeless.

I am doing my best, though, to rectify my errors. I flipped my pants, will water the lawn tomorrow, and apologized profusely to my student (although, ultimately, we could not get our technology to work properly).

And I am now going to write the neglected blog:

Today I read The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden. It is one of those books that has been languishing in my “to read” pile.

Initially, I picked up Shopaholic & Baby, which has been neglected while I finished my paper. However, within the first few pages, Becky Bloomwood was back to her lying ways, and I thought, “She drives me crazy. And I don’t have to put up with it.” So down went Becky and up came The Kitchen Madonna.

This is a delightful little book. Gregory, a nine-year-old boy, has a deep love and respect for his family’s Ukrainian maid, Marta. When he discovers that Marta is sad because she does not have an icon in the kitchen, he commits to doing something about it.

Gregory, initially, is confused by Marta’s desire for an icon. However, I was not surprised. I discovered that many Ukrainians—like other nationalities, I’m sure—are obsessed with their icons.

Almost every taxi or bus driver has a miniature icon attached to his (I am not being sexist here—they really are all male) visor. Almost every home I entered had an icon on the wall—even the homes of people who no longer claimed allegiance to Orthodox or Catholic religions. For Ukrainians, icons have a deep, significant meaning that I could not comprehend.

And neither does Gregory. He does not understand Marta’s need for an icon, nor that the icon also represents the loss of her family, home, and religion to war and Communism. Yet Gregory, with the help of his seven-year-old sister, Janet, sets out to procure—and ultimately to create—an icon for Marta.

As Gregory makes the icon, he changes—the dour boy becomes sociable. The text is not overtly religious, but clearly the icon transforms Gregory and those around him.

As for me, this little book did much more to ease my ailing mind than any pop fiction could.

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