Book Review: A Cow Called BoyPublished Aug 31, 2009
About the Book:
A touching story of Josh's fight to save his hand-reared bull-calf, Boy, from the butcher's greedy hands.
Reviewer: Oren O. Cousins
A Cow Called Boy is a humorous and dramatic true-to-life novella or novelette which can be enjoyed as a serialized bed-time story read to pre-literate tots. It can be read with enjoyment by literate six-year olds and by still sprightly or physically challenged , bespectacled nonagenarians.
. A young and small bullkin, by the name of Boy, insists on invading a class in a small rural school, he wake of his owner, schoolboy Josh Mahon. Boy’s insistence triggers off a stream of reactions, crises and consequencies, some serious, but others mostly humorous. Josh is late for school when the bullkin defies all efforts to prevent him from going to school with his owner. Mrs. Anthony, Josh’s class teacher, “amazed and afraid,” immediately objects to the calf entering her class room . “Get him out of here! Are you crazy?” she shouted at Josh ,and almost fainted She soon relents and accepts Boy as Josh’s holiday project. She cleverly engages an enthusiastic and He is not a cow, sir.”
animated class of boys and girls in an object lesson from Josh’s holiday project. “She too was catching some of the excitement.”
Boy is intelligent . He impresses the class by doing Josh’s commands like a circus animal. But he is also disobedient. Although ordein tred to remain under the school until dismissal, he wanders off into the school hall, and sets off more serious reactions, A little girl shouts., “Teacher, Teacher, there is a cow in the school!” She panics and jumps through a glass window. Pupils and teachers pour out excitedly , some in fear, into the school hall.
Children, and some teachers , particularly in rural schools, occasionally and excitedly have a quickly passing experience of the intrusion of a large black bat or a bird fluttering about their class, but the intrusion of a calf is a very remote possibility, Palmer has , with insight, dramatically explored the psychology of a simple incident as to create a theatrical stage effect, The novel reads like a play being acted.
The incident becomes increasingly dramatic and critical when a frightened Mrs. Redmond, the Head Teacher’s wife, fainted. However, the Headmaster quickly restores order in his school , and brings everything under control , including the angry mother of Maria , the girl who jumped through the glass window. Josh’s mother insists on selling Boy. The plot rapidly advances, after this highly sensitive and critical consequence of Boy’s intrusion, towards a happy denouement. The selling of Boy to Mr. Benjamin Watson sparks off a concerted and successful objection by children, parents and other villagers that Josh should not be deprived of his pet calf.
“ It was a glorious morning” when Mr. Watson resells Boy to Josh Mahon. A sensible, courageous and resolute boy gains a victory, but his repeated efforts to correct his schoolmates., some of the teachers and the villagers from calling a head of cattle “a cow”, regardless of the sex of the animal, are futile.
The Characters and Rural Settings:
The scenery, pastoral and idyllic, as well as the characters are Jamaicans and are real. Houses with thatched roofs were common dwellings , eked-out subsistence and simple living, widespread poverty , peasant pride, morality and independence were common in country parts long before the 1940’s , and after the Second World The post-War Diaspora to England and the U.S.A, somewhat brought about vastly improved living conditions for the peasantry. Mrs. Mahon, high-top rubber boots and all, is a rural female small-farmer type common to Jamaican countryside in the latter part of the nineteenth and throughout the earlier part of the twentieth century, and now rarely seen, but still exists. “She steps bram! Bram! –like a man.” Mrs. Redmond type of teachers stills exists in classrooms “She was as solid as a wooden barrel and was shaped like one.” Mr. Redmond is typical of village schoolmasters , a sturdy leather strap a tool of his trade, Dr. Cure-All, as late as the latter part of the twentieth century , and currently, , some of them valiantly head schools in some rustic parts of Jamaica. Mr. Benjamin Watson type and others character types we can surely find, in villages, here and there.
Language and Style, Illustrations:
Adults and children in rural Jamaica, tend to express their thoughts , opinions and wishes in short , simple sentences. There is paucity of conjunctions ( but ‘and”’ is freely used to begin a sentence) and of modifiers, in their speech. Palmer’s style in A Cow Called Boy, as well as in his other novels, is considerably influenced by this peculiar feature of village language. His style is unsophisticated and is appropriately crisp, brisk and . engaging, as most suitable and congenial for young readers. Jamaican patois spoken generally by rural folks, is missing from the dialogue. It’s absence is somewhat unnatural. But Palmer should not be blamed for this omission, as it is still controversial whether it should be used in literary works , though much work has been done by the late Louise Bennett and others in promoting it as a national language. A Cow Called Boy is replete with humour, drama and suspense. The reader is cleverly induced to ask, “What next?” as suspense stimulates curiosity and the narrative rapidly moves towards a climax.
The illustrations, by Laszlo Acs are extraordinarily good and full of energy. They amusingly and interestingly tell a story , each on its own, especially the front Cover design; Teacher Redmond resuscitating his wife and the demonstration in front of Mr. Watson’s Store. .
This is a light-hearted novel, but it is not altogether frivolous, as there are lessons to be learnt from it, such as tolerance, appreciation and love for animals, empathy and understanding between children and adults, conscientiousness and justice, determination and courage. The story suggests that when emotions or passions run high against what appears to be unacceptable or objectionable, and a community becomes resolutely and peacefully united in objection, the desired effect or remedy can be achieved. It is a bit perturbing that Palmer leaned heavily towards maternal and feminine influence on the children and in the demonstration to recover Josh’s pet calf, while men appear to be marginalized. But Palmer should not be castigated for this, He seems to be sending a true message that men are failing in what are expected of men. A Cow Called Boy is an amusing and delightful little novel which can be read in two to three hours, but demands a much longer time , after reading it, in which to ruminate.
About the Author
C. Everard Palmer was born in Kendal in the Jamaican parish of Hanover. He had his early education in the rural community after which he attended Mico Teachers' College in Kingston. He worked as a journalist with the Gleaner Company before starting a career as an author. All his stories have so far been inspired by the memories of his childhood, and though the people and incidents are imagined they could easily have been real. He has been living in Canada for the past 25 years. These popular works of junior fiction are all exciting stories of life in rural Jamaica, told with warmth, affection and insight.
Where to Get the Book:
"The Dead Yard" is available at the Guardian Book Store
7 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
I read this book in first form many many years ago and I have the same feeling every time I take up the book. Even if you are having a bad day just reading this book must put a smile on your face.