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14 Years of Fascination

Updated on March 9, 2014

Rafik's Schami's greatest work?

Childhood innocence is something we can think about without really thinking about it. When someone is asked about childhood innocence, they talk about times when we were more curious about things and everything new fascinated us. It is easy to think about these times, but when you really reminisce about it, you realize how intriguing it was. A plane flying by in the sky, a clown honking his nose, a motorcycle flying by you on the highway, or even just a simple Disney movie were things that seemed so mysteriously mesmerizing. We couldn’t get enough of them as a child, and now we take them for granted. It is difficult to get people to really reminisce about this innocence. In the book, A Hand Full of Stars, Rafik Schami did a phenomenal job of capturing childhood innocence. The diary format he used, the little signs of the narrator’s curiosity, and the use of slight immaturity that progressed to maturity are all terrific ways that Rafik Schami was able to capture this feeling and get the reader to feel it as well.

Being able to capture childhood innocence is a difficult task that many movie producers and book writers have attempted, and have generally failed. They think that talking about it will get the reader or viewer to remember their own childhood. This seldom works. In many movies like The High School Musical, or Black Beauty you don’t see the children portrayed in a way that actually resonates with real children. One instance of a good effort was the Disney movie Tangled, directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. The way they used that fact that Rapunzel, the main character, had never been out of her castle, and was now free to roam, was fantastic. They had a difficult task in trying to capture innocence and curiosity, and I believe they nailed it. The way Rapunzel felt so amazed at being outside of the castle and feeling the grass and water between her toes were phenomenal ways to display her innocence because of her mother keeping her from the world. However, it is even more difficult in a book format, without visual images, to depict the main character and their childhood fascinations. This is why I am so impressed with A Hand Full of Stars.

Rafik Schami’s first innovative tactic was to put the book into diary format. Doing this allowed us to see the thoughts straight from the young narrator. You see his opinions about everyone around him and the way he would think about things. You would get captured in his mind and would begin to think like him. There are many small diary paragraphs that talked about his love for Nadia, or his hatred of working at the bakery that gave you an insight into how he thinks about people and how his mental process works when he is put into an uncomfortable situation. On July 10th, he compared the bakery to a prison: “What is a prison compared to the bakery? My father has worked there now for more than thirty years without a break… Every morning he’s up at four, and he doesn’t leave until five in the afternoon… Maybe he enjoys it, but it is no life for me” (p. 23). From this quote you can tell that he truly dislikes working at the bakery. One example of the speaker being put into an uncomfortable situation was when he finds out that Mariam loves Habib and does not love him. He was taken by surprise and acted as a child would act by being confused as to why she doesn’t love him (p. 105).

I think the best way the Rafik Schami captured childhood innocence in A Handfull of Stars was the little signs that you read about. I believe in any kind of story, slight signs of curiosity are the best way to get people to think about something because they can relate to them and relation is an important part of creating a story that captures an audience. A few great examples of this are: the card trick, the “Black Hand” gang, and the reference to the moon because they all capture the narrator’s curiosity and innocence.

The card trick (p. 40-42) shows the narrator’s fascination with the card trick that Toni, the gynecologist’s son, can perform. The narrator is caught in wonder because he can’t figure out how it is done, “But my fingers went stiff when I turned over a jack, just as Toni had predicted.” Eventually his fascination becomes corrupted when he is told that the cards are marked on the back.

The “Black Hand” gang is something that hit me very close to home. As a child I was always trying to be mature and act like my friends and I were something worth fearing. We would try to construct plans, like forming a gang, to get parents of children to think we were really cool. I thought it was a great touch to the book to add the gang because it gave you more of the speaker’s life inside his friend group and culture. “But I was the one who was supposed to put the note on Nadia’s door. My friends wanted me to prove myself” (p. 33). It really brought a childish feeling into the mind of readers.

Thirdly, the narrator’s reference to the moon was one that I believe had a huge amount of significance even though it was such a small section in the book: “…Even the smallest sliver of the moon instills in me a special kind of peace” (p. 52). When adults look at the moon they understand the scientific background of how it is there and what significance it has. Children look at the moon and are astounded. They can’t believe that there is land outside of where they live. They think it is something worth viewing. Their curiosity causes them to really enjoy looking at it. Its shiny allure, its craters that look like a pattern or face, and the fact that it is up there at all are all things that astound children. Schami captured this curiosity very well.

The final way that Rafik Schami captured childhood innocence well was the use of slight immaturity in the narrator. The narrator would say things that showed that he was still just a boy. He said he loved Nadia, he feared that Miriam loved him, and he talked about hating his father’s bakery. Without these experiences, the narrator would just seem like a regular person. As the years progressed, you found that the narrator was starting to mature. You saw less of these small diary entries about immature things and started to hear about things that the narrator thought were important like getting the truth out as a journalist, creating underground newspapers, and loving Nadia in a more mature way. Eventually you could see that the innocence of the narrator was gone and he had become an adult.

Rafik Schami is a talented writer that was able to capture something that not many writers or producers can capture. He was able to show childhood innocence through the use of a diary layout, through small examples of a child’s fascination with simple things, and through examples of slight immaturities that the narrator portrayed. “A Hand Full of Stars” is a perfect book to read if you want to experience childhood innocence. I commend the author on his ability to bring this innocence to life in words.


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