Thursday, March 3, 2011


Assessing the Middle East’s voice through Laurie H. Anderson’s novel

My most recent foray into teen lit reading was the amazing 1999 novel, “Speak,” by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Beautifully written and hauntingly disturbing, it tells the heart-breaking story of thirteen year old Melinda’s traumatic silence after a brutal attack at a pre-high school summer party.  Peeking into the troubled teen’s mind and reliving her anxiety, fears, and solitude was both a scary and addictive experience.
I couldn’t help but draw larger analogies to the pain of the character and the pain of the people in the Middle East right now.  While many people can’t understand why several Arab countries are willing to plunge their worlds into chaos simply for the chance to be heard, Anderson’s portrait of a young girl’s silence provides the perfect microcosmic glimpse into the region’s disturbed past. 
To live under tyrannical rule for decades with sealed lips, passively accepting whatever suffering a dictator deems worthy to dole out is both humiliating and frustrating.  Just as in Melinda’s case, the fear, the mistrust, the self-blame and the ultimate hatred can build into a powerful force.  How that force takes shape often depends on a person’s capacity for reaction.  While there are bad apples in every barrel, most of the people of the Middle East seem to have finally found their voices and are not willing to be silenced again. 
As the head Libyan oppressor and his nepotistic government continue to murder the innocent and sink an entire country into desperation, the voices keep getting louder.  For the first time in many, many years, the people of the Middle East are releasing their nationalistic shackles and fighting subjugation together in solidarity.    
Although the interim governments in the few countries who have gained their “independence” may be no better than the previous dictators, just being allowed to verbalize discontent is a huge step in the right direction.  As the protagonist in Anderson’s novel is finally able to break her silence with a resounding, “NO,” so too are these nations finally able to reject years of silence and suppression and rise up against the corruption in their countries. 
Anderson’s novel clearly transcends the typical tale of high school hardship.  Her message that silence is often more agonizing than words is eloquently conveyed to those who really listen.  Whether you’re a broken girl of thirteen or a broken nation of millions, everyone should have the right to shatter the chains of pain and degradation, end the silence, and quite simply
         --Suzy Ismail

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