amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little

is a masterpiece itself. the book is found in the teen fiction section of bookstores, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. it’s a free verse tale set in Medieval Spain during the Inquisition.

the book tells of Ramon, a young scribe, his family and a boy who is given to them as a slave. this is a compelling story based on a wretched time in history when Spain wanted only “pure Catholics” and insisted that Jewish people convert, inform on one another and eventually end up tortured. Muslims were also treated roughly by the Catholic Church.

i was reading the Apprentice’s Masterpiece while having lunch at my favourite restaurant, the Black Tomato, in the Market and dwelling on it for so long i had to have two glasses of rosé along with my lunch, a coffee and a slice of chocolate pecan pie. good writing gives me an appetite.

it was so compelling that i couldn’t put the book down. i want to read this book to my husband out loud and to anyone else who wants to sit down and hear a good story. Melanie’s skill as a story teller shines in this book. i thought i might find the verse annoying, because i’m not normally inclined to young people’s stories told in verse, even free verse, but it wasn’t at all. there is strong word play and good poetic technique in the Apprentice’s Masterpiece. most rhyme is internal and done with a light touch.

i do hope that teens actually read the book. i remember being a teen and being completely uninterested in history; however, this book makes it come alive and is so relevant to current events and the young characters are drawn very realistically, suffering through the kind of life angst that teens today still suffer from: love, fitting in, poverty, violence, and bullying.

Melanie dedicates this book to victims of intolerance and those who have taken risks by asking questions. i can’t think of a better audience for this book than young people, who need to be asking questions right now about the wars we are involved in and incidences of intolerance in their own lives. We all should be asking these questions. Melanie’s book is an excellent reminder of what can happen.

what i also loved about this book was its love of books. there’s a lot of mention of books, and the work that went into producing them by scribes, the love for and power of language through such things as a slave’s emancipation powers, the poetry of Hafiz, letters from a mother to her son.

in the acknowledgements section, Melanie mentions that she spent a great deal of time in the Ottawa Public Library doing research for the book. her love of research and attention to detail is clearly communicated in this work. remember to stop by the library today and pick up a book or two. the Apprentice’s Masterpiece is in two libraries: the Main branch and Nepean Centrepointe, checked out in the former and being held in the latter, but do request it or better yet, pick up a copy :)

for those of you who may or may not know, Melanie Little lived in Ottawa for a number of years and contributed wonderfully to the literary scene here, participating in early variations of the Max Middle Sound Project along with her husband, brilliant poet, Peter Norman, offering writing workshops and reading as a feature and open mic. Then she moved to Calgary where she was the Markin-Flanagan writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta in 2005-06.

She’s since become the editor of a new publishing company, Freehand Books, which is owned by Broadview Press. Melanie will be back in Ottawa as part of a special Ottawa International Writers Festival Event on September 18 featuring writers published by Freehand. Here's in an interview with her conducted by rob mclennan.

i am a big fan of Melanie’s writing. her book of short stories, Confidence, was so good I gave it away to a friend right away to read something i’ve only done so quickly since with William Neil Scott’s Wonderfull and Joel Thomas Hynes Right Away Monday.

I recommend you pick up The Apprentice’s Masterpiece. It’s gorgeous, well-told and timely. Trust me, you'll devour it.

1 comment:

K8 said...

Hey Amanda - I really wanted to bring Melanie in to participate in the children's program of the Writers Festival... alas, her schedule just didn't allow for it. But I'll keep trying! Thanks for the review - I read and loved the book too.