Monday, June 14, 2010

Characters in my Memory

I returned home early today and was thinking of what book should I spend this evening with. I pondered over an Amitav Ghosh, a short story collection and Great Expectations.  I finally decided to continue with The Idiot, which I have finished only half. As I picked up the book from my desk, another thought popped in my head: if I were to make a list of literary characters that have stayed with me over the years, who would feature in it.

So, I made a list (it’s not in any particular order) – some of them I always knew would make it but there were others that surprised me.

1.     Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice): In my humble opinion, theirs is the most romantic love story ever. It does not have the grandeur and tragedy of Romeo & Juliet. Or the passionate intensity of Cathy and Heathcliff’s saga. But Darcy and Elizabeth are real. You watch their love grow from a strong, mutual dislike into a strong bond. They are so different, yet so same. Quiet wit interlaced with the matrimonial ambitions of match making mamas provide a perfect backdrop to a love story that few characters in the book expected.

2.       Sidney Carter (A Tale of Two Cities): I had first read the book in abridged form when I was barely 13 years old. I read it unabridged only a couple of years back. As masterful Dickens’ description of the chaos called French Revolution is, even more beautiful is the characterization. Carter is an unlikely hero, an unsung lover. And his pain though never explicit, reaches out to the reader in subtle waves. His morals are always grey but his sacrifice true. He is, to my mind, Dickens’ greatest creation.

3.     Howard Roarke (The Fountainhead): Ayn Rand created a visionary in her landmark book. But more than the visionary, the man impressed me. He has principles and deep-rooted ideals but he also loves and feels. His relationship with Dominque, his love and Toohey, his antagonist remain with you as much as his speech on individualism in the courtroom.

4.     Michael Corleone (The Godfather): Michael Corleone and his father have inspired more movie portrayals than perhaps any other book characters of twentieth century – and in all shades and forms (from original The Godfather to the latest, Raajneeti). Don Corleone inspires awe and just a hint of fear. It is, however, Michael who evokes a larger palette of emotions in the readers – from sympathy to revulsion, admiration to disbelief. It is his transformation from a favourite son to the “Godfather” that makes this book a classic.

5.       Jo March (Little Women): Of all the March sisters, I wanted to be Jo, the most. She was smart, spunky, headstrong but responsible. Amy was the spoilt brat, Meg, the princess and Beth, the sweet invalid. Sometimes, I felt that she alone saw the March family through those difficult times. Now only if she had said “Yes” to Laurie!

6.     Jennifer Parker (Rage of Angels): One of the strongest Sidney Sheldon heroines. A woman who falls and rises again and again. A woman who suffers great personal losses, again and again, yet manages to walk away  the victor.

7.     William Kane (Kane and Abel): In the biblical stories, Cain is the first murderer. He kills his brother, Abel. But in the Jeffrey Archer classic, William Kane is a shrewd businessman with a heart of gold. The world sees Kane and Abel as archenemies, who spend their lives trying to destroy each other. It is only after William’s death that Abel discovers that Kane was the secret friend who had helped him in the most trying times. But even before Archer reveals this secret in the book, William Kane wins the epithet of the novel’s hero.

8.       Rebecca Luria (Acts of Faith): Not many people cite this Erich Segal book as one of his best. Predictably,  Love Story and The Class are considered to be his masterpieces. My favourite, however, is Acts of Faith. The very idea of love persevering and finally winning after 13 long years is, by itself, wondrous. Add to it, the conflict of faith, the politics of religion and the oh-so-familiar burden of great expectations and you have a page-turner. Timothy and Daniel are strong male protagonists but it is Rebecca who has to, arguably and like women in most places, overcome the most odds. She is the daughter of an extremely orthodox rabbi. She falls in love with a Christian boy, who decides to enter the Church. Her religion, her upbringing demand that she be docile and get married to the man her father has chosen. She decides to make her own path and becomes one of the few women rabbi of her time.

9.     Portia (Merchant of Venice): I have a confession to make. I have never liked Shakespeare. I would go one step further and commit blasphemy by saying that in my opinion, he is a tad overrated. But even I cannot deny the sheer magnetism and charisma of Portia’s personality. She towers head and shoulders above the men in her life – from husband Bassanio to the nearly doomed Antonio. She outwits a shrewd, sly and perhaps justly enraged Jew and in the process shows her man that she is the boss. Way to go, girl.

10.   Raju (The Guide): Very few Indian writers in English know the art of making India look beautiful. Fewer still know how to make it seem interesting and real without resorting to the descriptions of slums, hovels and the starving natives. R K Narayan was a master at both. The Guide, the book, is far better than the eponymous movie. It is the story of Raju, the guide and conman who becomes an unwitting saint to a drought-stricken village.  He is the soul of the book. Even when he is cheating on Rosie, you still keep hoping that he would redeem himself. Well, he does. Just not in the way you would normally expect.

11.   Hermione Granger (Harry Potter): Ms. Granger is a really interesting mix of caution and recklessness, prude and scandalous, practical and romantic. She exasperates and confuses Ron. She stands by Harry and solves half his problems. My favourite scene is where she punches Malfoy in The Prisoner of Azkaban. In Ron’s words, “That was bloody brilliant.”

12.   Scarlett O’ Hara (Gone with the Wind): The princess of Tara is not in the least likeable. But she is admirable. Her tenacity and will to survive make her a heroine. Her scheming mind and selfishness brand her a vamp. You never quite know what do you feel for her but you can never forget her.

There are plenty of other characters who come to mind but if I were to write about all, we would be sitting here seven days and seven nights. And I have a book and Richard Castle waiting. So, ciao and good night.


  1. This is a great way to pay tribute to your greatest love - books. :)

  2. If you read Frederick Forsyth , most of his characters are also extremely followable. FF's characters really show how life can be lived ...for others. My personal hero - Cat Shannon from "Dogs of War"

  3. I kept scrolling down hoping to find Atticus Finch. He didn't make it to your list :)

  4. @ Anonymous: Finch didn't pop into my head rightaway...but yes, he is quite memorable.