Characters That Stay With Us

I have an odd assortment of good friends.  Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life.  These paper friends visit me in dreams.  Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan.  Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo?  Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands.   Does he appreciate each day on the good earth  with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?

I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways.  He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress.  I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft.  Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure.  He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven.   I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.

I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck.  She stopped bullying me after that.

Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa.  I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country.  James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities?  I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.

Which book’s character/s continue to live with you? 

29 thoughts on “Characters That Stay With Us

  1. When I was a teenager I read Michener’s Hawaii and was so blown away by the sense of history and ability to follow generations of families. There was a Chinese couple that came to Hawaii to work. Her feet were never bound so she was “lesser” but one helluva business woman. I admired her. She was able to not only handle the discrimination she received but to use it to make money for her family. There were others in that book that haunted me for many years. It was survival.

    • Sounds like my kind of read, Kate 🙂 for some reason I have always been intimidated by Michener. I read his autobiography years ago and was just blown away by the man. Incredible life story. I am very drawn to male and female characters who are attached in some way ‘to the land’ and like you say, ‘survival’. Thank you for sharing this Kate ❤

    • Dysfunctional family indeed Andrea 😀 all these clamoring voices and then of course all those who call from the fringes wanting our attention; waiting to be birthed into existence. I sometimes think I may be going completely mad…:D

    • I once owned a copy of Middlemarch but never got round to reading it 😦 am now desperate to get to it because I have read excellent reviews on ”My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead and want to get to know the characters. Thanks for sharing this Marie ❤

      • I read it while I was in college. I enjoyed much of George Eliot but Middlemarch is always my favorite. I bought Rebecca Mead’s book for a friend and am (impatiently) waiting for her to finish so I can read it next 🙂

  2. Yolanda so beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to our many hero’s and villains in novels. Even children’s book characters like Pippy Longstocking come to visit me. If my children are not having a good day I say. “Imagine how Pippy would have dealt with that bully or that problem.” Although I laughed out large and loud reading your answer….to bullies…. tar and feathers indeed. Enjoyed this post so much.

  3. I read your beautiful prose and nothing – nothing more came to mind! Then I came back and read the comments – and said to myself yes of course ….. that one! Though for me I think the characters are inextricably bound up within the books it is hard to – well, extricate them 🙂 A number of years back I read Jasper Fforde’s first novel ‘The Eyre Affair’ and thought it wickedly funny and clever – but it ‘ruined’ beloved characters….. Then I was given PD James ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, the follow up to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which I never finished reading because it was destroying the magic of the original [in my opinion].

    Where am I going with this ramble? No idea – but I do think sometimes of the characters from Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ and wonder where they are now….. Like Kate I read Michener’s ‘Hawaii’ when I was very young and I credit that book with opening my ears, eyes and heart to the big picture – I still love far ranging, historical, geographical and societal stories. ‘Cloud Atlas’ is one of my current, disturbingly accurate, contemporary reads. I can’t call it a favourite as it is too disturbing – but it strikes a chord!

    • I also don’t like the ‘follow ups’ and I avoid books that were half-complete and then finished by another author. I shouldn’t really comment though on whether any of them were ‘made good’ or are wonderful in their own right because I don’t read them but I do think the magic is destroyed as you say, Pauline. I have read all of Kingsolver’s non-fiction and essays but sadly none of her fiction. Have to get round to that 😀 ❤

  4. Yolanda – this is a gem of a post, I love it. My very first character that has stayed with me was Christopher Robin. And of course, he wasn’t fictional, he was AA Milne’s son. I grew up on the poetry written for him and the stories of Christopher Robin’s soft toys, Winnie, Eeyore and all. Next came Peter Pan. A fantastical boy who got my imagination going for ever more and who I dressed up as frequently, my younger sister would be Tinkerbell.
    Later, as a parent, I was able to read all the Roald Dahl books which was an absolute pleasure. Danny the Champion of the World found a special place in my heart. I meet a lot of Dannys these days😄

    • Thank you so much Jenny, glad you enjoyed it ❤ YES! Danny and James and Charlie…I am still a big fan. Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss were the only authors my sons were ever interested in 😀

  5. What an invitation! Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton. Gertie from The Dollmaker. Mamie Pinzer from The Maimie Papers. Lucy Snowe from Villette. MErricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Too many!

  6. You have written a marvelous opening for deep conversation, Yolanda. I enjoyed your post, realizing who each character was, as you have ‘carried’ them, adding to their stories and have become part of you. I loved all the March girls from “Little Women,” but Jo was independent and spunky. I am always proud of how Elizabeth in “Pride and Prejudice” stood up for her opinions and then, was later able to admit she made a big mistake about Mr. Darcy! I have enjoyed Christopher Robin, mainly since my Dad used to leave off the Christopher, (the page boy cut could have been a girl’s…) and led me to believe Winnie the Pooh’s owner was named “Robin” just like I was! I enjoyed having Margaret become part of my life, as a teacher, when I re-read, “God, this is Margaret” (oops, I am forgetting the exact title’s wording…) Then as a Nana reading to my grandies, I felt sad and cried when “Charlotte” passed away after helping to save Wilbur’s life, living on as baby spiders came about.

    • Thank you so much for adding to this conversation Robin 🙂 I am a fan of Jo’s too. and of Elizabeth 🙂 My parents didn’t read to us, so I discovered Winnie The Pooh much later in life (the many joys of being a parent). Margaret sounds interesting…

      • “Hello God, It’s Me, Margaret” I think was written by Judy Bloom. She was quite popular with my sixth grade class, but I felt there were others in her collection which built my interest in her characters.

  7. What a beautifully written post Yolanda. I too loved Huck Finn and think he played a big part in my thoughts of going to America, although when I finally did, my adventures were nothing like the sort I imagined!! Growing up, we had a small pond at the front of our house and my brother and I rigged up a sort of a raft – planks of wood tied to four oil drums we found, goodness knows where – and pretended we were on some great adventure on the Mississippi river 🙂 I also adored all The Little House on the Prairie books, but the character who never left me was, for some odd reason, Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels, and also Robinson Crusoe. I longed for adventure you can tell…maybe I still do! I am fascinated by the way you see your characters so clearly in your dreams. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to mine 🙂

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