Book review: Heidi

Title: Heidi 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Translator: Eileen Hall
Illustrator: Cecil Leslieheidi-johanna-spyri-hardcover-cover-art
Publisher: Puffin Classics
ISBN: 0 14 036.679 2
Genre: Children’s Book
Pages: 295
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading Heidi, I was fifteen and travelling in a train with a bunch of friends I had made on the trip. We were on our way back home and I was speeding through the book, trying to finish reading it before we reached our destination since it was someone else’s copy. Everyone was singing songs, trying to have fun just before the hour of parting forever. I remember they were singing “It’s the time to disco!” and it is then that someone ( I don’t remember who) said to me, “It’s not the time to read books!”

Forced to agree, I shut the book and never got my hands on it until last year. I tried catching up with the story on TV: a beautiful animated series (cartoon we call it in India) titled Heidi, Girl of the Alps. But then college happened and I lost track of Heidi one more time.

This year, however, I read the whole book from start to end without interruptions.  Heidi, short for Adelheid, is a five-year-old girl who lives with her aunt Dette. But since Dette finds a better job, she is unable to care for Heidi anymore and does the unthinkable: leave Heidi with her reclusive grandfather, who lives in solitude on top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  The rest of the village thinks Dette has lost her mind, leaving the child with such a grumpy old man. But Heidi is a happy child and Uncle Alp is like the ants in Ant Bully ‘hard on the outside, soft on the inside’.

Heidi has a happy childhood in the mountains with her grandfather and the goatherd Peter. The descriptions of the snow-clad mountains, the sunset, the grass, and the goats is the essence of this book. Here’s Heidi’s first experience of watching the sun go down:

It was getting late and the setting sun spread a wonderful golden glow over the grass and the flowers, and the high peaks shone and sparkled. Heidi sat for a while, quietly enjoying the beautiful scene, then all at once she jumped up, crying, ‘Peter, Peter! A fire, a fire! The mountains are on fire, and the snow and the sky too. Look, the trees and the rocks are all burning, even up there by the hawk’s nest. Everything’s on fire!’

When she gets home that evening, she asks her grandfather about the huge fire in the sky since Peter was not specific:

It’s the sun’s way of saying goodnight to the mountains. He spreads that beautiful light over them so that they won’t forget him till he comes back in the morning.

Slowly, Heidi comes to recognize the mountain with the feeling of home, and when she is taken away to the city, she withers away like a bud denied the rays of the sun. But Heidi is not someone who doesn’t know how to make the best of the situation she is in, so when she is struggling, her mind constantly mirrors the sunset on the mountains – a sign of hope.

Also, I found, the story has many verses from the Bible, and Spyri stresses on education and learning. Since it is a Children’s book, I think it is allowed a little bit of didactic undertones.

Overall, Heidi’s is a simple story of wanting the simple things in life: fresh air, good food, good thoughts, books to read, and a loving family. Who would not like that, now?

Poem of the week: Week One.

So, this is a little project I thought of doing: I will post a poem a week from the poetry collections I have at home round the year. I have decided on themes for each month; each week of the month will have a poem based on the theme. January gets ‘Beginnings and ends’ for obvious reasons.

The following poem is from The Little Magazine’s India in Verse anthology of Contemporary Poetry from 20 Indian Languages.

Shall I open this day?
– Kedarnath Singh

Shall I open this day
which someone has left
at my doorstep?
The colour of turmeric
fresh
like an airmail letter.

In the shimmering light,
like other missives
this wandering message
must not go unread –
I think I’ll
open it.
This golden letter which holds the day
lying silent at my doorstep
I’ll open it.

But a small, laughing question
stays my hand,
who knows what is written there?
(who knows, perhaps it is for someone else
and left at my door in the dead of the night)
It does not bear my name
or my address
ah, how could I open it?

My hand which opened
the door
the horizon
the cardinal directions,
who knows why it trembles
at the thought of opening
this mute, fresh, turmeric-hued message
stamped by a ray of sunlight.

Translated from the Hindi poem ‘Khol doon yeh aaj ka din’ by Pratik Kanjilal.

***

At times, the little hesitation at the break of day is what I get from this delightful and simple poem. I can’t help but wonder, along with the poet, about this slight indecisiveness one feels at the beginning of the day.