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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Composition

Reviewed: October 24, 2007
By: Antonio Skarmeta / illustrations by Alfonso Ruano
Publisher: Groundwood Books
40 pages, $6.95

There are places in the world where just living day to day is difficult, where the governments strive their hardest to keep the citizenry bottled up and where the slightest dissent is punishable by death. We have recently seen that Burma is one of these places, and the actions of that government against peaceful protests there have set a new low mark for dictatorships everywhere.

Some Latin American nations have been like that. We think of the military regime in Argentina and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile as prime examples of such despotism.

Antonio Skarmeta is a Chilean author and teacher, but he does not necessarily name Chile as the setting of his 1998 book La composicion, of which this book is the English translation.

In the story young Pedro lives under a dictatorship and, at school, the children are tricked by the military into informing on their families by the simple act of writing a composition entitled “What my family does at night.” Pedro manages to figure out that listening to banned radio broadcasts would not be a good thing and writes that his family plays chess most evenings, thus saving them from the fate he has already seen befall the local corner store owner.

This is tough going for a children’s book. At something like 4,000 words it is many times more wordy than the average book of its size and will be a challenge for younger readers, It is, however, an excellent story with full page illustrations that do help the text along. It would be a good book to read to children and it ought to stimulate a lot of discussion.

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