Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chapter 26

Many students tell me they aren't readers. They say they've never read an entire book and have no plans to start. I tell them that they aren't readers yet. I insist that they will read at least one novel before the end of the year. And then we spend the entire school year proving each other wrong.

It's incredible when the light bulb does turn on in students' heads--sometimes it happens to an entire class--and they start really responding to some work of literature. This happened last year. (Step into my memory ...) My eighth period English IV class, full of slackers and auto shop boys and recent immigrants, takes one look at The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and declare that they'll never read it.

"Trust me," I remember saying, "you'll love it."

"That's what you said about Like Water for Chocolate!" someone says.

"What? You didn't like that one? Well, this one's different."

I then say two things to try to get the kids interested:
  1. Something really horrible happens to one of the boys in the book. It's one of the most horrible things that can ever happen.
  2. Parts of this book, well, made me cry. Here's what I tell them: "I was reading this book on vacation. I remember being on a plane, heading back from Ireland, when I got to a certain passage. It's not even a major event in the book, but it really touched me. And then I felt something trickling down my face, towards my chin. It was a tear! I realized I was crying. So I lifted the book"--I hold an open book in front of my face to show what I did on that plane--"so that no one could see me. After a minute I slowly lowered the book and peered over to see if anyone had noticed me crying. Luckily, everyone else on the plane was asleep. So I was free to cry. Ladies and gents, that's the kind of book this is."
This gets them intrigued. They start shouting out possibilities--horrible things that can happen to a guy. They also shout insults--they're outraged that a man can cry, and then admit to crying, about a book. So when the book's in their hands, many do read. And they love it. And their enthusiasm gets the reluctant readers to read, and soon I have magic, an entire class of nonreaders reading.

During the next couple of weeks, I find myself interrupted by my eighth period kids at weird moments during the school day. Between third and fourth, for example, a head pops in and shouts, "Ooh, I hate that motherfucker!" It takes me a moment to realize she's talking about one of the characters. Before school, a student stops by to ask if this is a true story.

If there is a teacher heaven, this is it. Students engaged. Into it. But if teacher heaven exists, so must teacher hell. On the day the entire novel must be complete, the kids come into class, with very little enthusiasm. Damn, I think, none of them finished. How's that possible? They were loving it. They were devouring it. Maybe they just didn't want it to end ...

"That was the worst ending of a novel ever," one kid declares.

"Yeah," someone else says, "there's no ending. We don't know what happened!"

"Is there another chapter? Part two to the book?" a third voice wants to know.

"Hang on," I say. "You read? You all actually finished? And you didn't like the ending? I thought it was an amazing ending." I'm in heaven again. They read. They were engaged with the story and the characters. And now they have actual criticism. Yes, I'm in heaven, but they're in hell, so I have to come up with something fast. Forget the lesson plan.

"OK, fine, let's say it's a rotten ending," I say. "Let's make it better. Your assignment is to write the next chapter. How do you think it should end? Any questions? No? OK, it's due tomorrow. Go!"

And so they start writing. Silence in the classroom, 25 18-year-old, self-proclaimed nonreaders creating something for others to read. One question does come up a couple of times, and I know I have a hit on my hands: "How long can it be?" NOT how long does it have to be? I tell them to keep writing until the book is finished.

The next day they show up with their work, some with several pages. They're excited. They want to share, to read their chapter out loud. So I let them. Some go all over the place, with characters showing up at our school and turning to gangs and drugs, but everyone listens, laughs at the right moments, and applauds at the endings.

(INTERRUPTION--As I'm writing this, I realize what many of you are thinking: there's no way this happened exactly as I'm describing it. And you're right. Sure, there were kids that didn't read the book. There were those that didn't do the assignment. Or did it poorly. Or slept while others read. But lay off, OK? This is my memory, and this is what I choose to remember.)

There was one student that really stood out: A recent immigrant from Nepal, a very small and fragile-looking boy, who was quite smart but too shy and too intimidated by the others to talk much in class. After class he sometimes stuck around and we had some amazing discussions, me knowing very little about his country and him being very homesick. Somehow the class got him to read his final chapter out loud. It was long. His accent made him difficult to understand at times. But when he finished, the class literally gave him a standing ovation.

"Now," someone declared, "the book is complete."

If you've read the novel, you know how it ends. If you haven't, you should for two reasons: 1. Something horrible happens to a boy, and 2. You can try to guess which part made me cry. Oh, and here's a possible third reason to read the book: I'm including the final chapter, as written by my student, in the comments below. It's not perfect, but it's good. Read his work, and tell me what you think.


appopt said...

TWENTY-SIX by Binod Pant

I ran from the park through the narrow streets to the wide roads of San Francisco. I neglected the traffic lights and the horns of the vehicles. People were looking at me as if I was crazy, I neglected them as well. For the moment all I cared about was the kite which had brought a smile in Sohrab. My breath was getting heavier and heavier, I felt dizziness, as if I was loaded with tons of weight on my back and it was almost impossible for me to make one more step. But suddenly, when I saw the kite everything turned out opposite. I ran as if I was the fastest athlete on earth. I saw Sohrab in the kite, I didn’t want to hurt him anymore so I jumped and caught the kite, but I fell on the ground. I laughed. I knew I hadn’t achieved much success but I laughed with hope. I was laughing, taking deep breaths, laughing again, and rolling on the muddy road. I stood up, but I was fading, and I fell.

“How are you, Mr. Amir?”

I opened my eyes, looked around and found I was on the lying in bed. The room was huge, all painted in white. On my left was Soraya; a bit further were General Sahib and Kaki Jan. I moved my eyes, on the right I saw a lady dressed in white. Her name was Dr. Rosy, a college graduate from Britain. She wore shady glasses, had long hair, beautiful eyes, and a slim body. She was holding a paperboard and a pen.

“You are in the hospital”, she answered my unspoken question.

I heard myself muttering, “What?”

“Looks like you had some injuries in you lungs. You shouldn’t have run so far.”

“Is it serious?”

“I hope not. I have prescribed you medicine…and…well…you will be discharged tomorrow. Now have some rest.”

She asked everyone to leave the room. One after another Soraya, Kaki Jan and General Sahib came by me and said the same phrase:
“You will be fine.”

My dissatisfied eyes were searching for someone and suddenly he was there. Sohrab was standing by the door with the kite in his left hand. He reflected his father’s image. I remembered when Hassan returned home with the kite which I had won in the tournament. I remembered how terrible he looked. I started weeping. He came close to me but I couldn’t hold my tears.

“Thank you kaka jan”

I pulled him to my bed, kissed him and started weeping louder. I felt great relief because the tears were cleaning my sins. I wanted to scream “Inshalla! I did it” since after so long happiness had knocked on my door.

Today, after four years, everything has changed in my life. Last year General Shab passed away in a car accident. On the other hand, kaki jan is counting her last breath in the hospital. Soraya and I are in our 40’s now. Sohrab goes to high school, is an outstanding student in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. Reading my books he says “I want to be a writer”. I am happy for him.

I am suffering from lung cancer.

According to the doctor, I will be leaving the world within six months. For the past couple of weeks I have been coughing blood and having difficulties in breathing. Maybe this is how my sin had to end, may be this is the justice. I am not sad that I am dying but I am sad thinking how Soraya and Sohrab will live without me.

Today, we have forgotten our past. I have forgotten the event in the ally, the kite tournament, Baba, Hassan, Rahim Khan and, even my motherland Afghanistan. Soraya is trying to forget her parents. Sohrab has forgotten his past too.

He now calls me “Baba jan.” Each time I hear the word, I feel completeness in myself. I realize I have become the man who I wanted to be during my childhood “Baba”, and if Baba is watching me I know he is proud of me. I don’t want to be a painful memory. I wish Soraya and Sohrab will forget me.

I wish they will forgive me as I have now forgiven Baba for being an incomplete father, Rahim kaka for hiding the truth, and above all I have forgiven myself.

May God forgive me.

The End

Secret Admirer said...

I am running out to get Kite Runner tomorrow so I can understand Binod's chapter.

Thanks, Binod, for inspiring me!

And thanks, Chicago Teacher Man, for teaching us!

Johnson said...

That was a GREAT ending!

A bit less artistic, a bit corny, but closure balances all that out.

So what does Mr. Pant do now?

spacedunce-5 said...

The last comment was from me.
(Accidentally logged on.)

appopt said...

Binod is now in college, although I haven't heard from him yet. I'd like to think that I helped him get some scholarships with a letter of recommendation I wrote, but I'm pretty sure he would've been fine without my help. Oh crap, that reminds me, I have some letters to write. Crap crap crap ... I'd rather keep posting and commenting ...

The Mom said...

I just finished reading "Kite Runner" and Binod's finish really is exactly what I needed. (The movie could have used it too!)