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Samantha’s Jewish parents escaped persecution from Baghdad and arrived in London to settle into their new lives. Yet, they brought with them not only the memories of a life gone by and nostalgia, but also the customs of the conservative community to their new home. Ellis’s childhood was haunted by her family’s persecution in Iraq; books became a way to process the world and she figured that “imagination, instead of being a flaw, might be my best hope”.
The novel opens on the Yorkshire moors with the author and her best friend arguing about who they would rather be – Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw.Thus begins Samantha’s journey as she rediscovers her book ‘heroines’ and finds that her role models seem to have shifted. While she loved Cathy then perhaps she would want to be Jane now. Melanie seems to be a better heroine than Scarlett O’Hara, and Nelly from Valley of the Dolls is quite something too. Samantha delves into her childhood favorites like Anne of the Green Gables, Little Women, House on the Prairie and the fairy tales of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and the like.
As Samantha’s role models begin to change, so does her view of her world , her problems and her dealing with them. She realizes that she has to be the heroine of her own story, and will be the one writing her own narrative. All her heroines though give her a sense of endless possibilities. She could lead a life that is not predestined, and when bad things happen, she can improvise and re-write her own life. Life is a yes and – when a performer makes an offer, the other must accept it (yes) and offer something of their own (and).
A drawback of the book is that the author’s personal narrative is not well drawn. That is a pity really because there was the possibility of so many stories of her family, their Iraqi-Jewish culture and her personal journey. In the overall scheme though, at least for me, that flaw became insignificant .
The book is a treat on interpreting and re-interpreting various heroines of books that I had identified with through my growing and reading years. In How to Be a Heroine, I missed meeting Alice from Alice and the Wonderland; Scarlett O’Hara is still my favorite character, and I discovered how special Scheherazade really is.
For book lovers, who identify with various characters and think of them and their fates even after the book is long over, How to Be a Heroine is a good read.