Book Review: ‘Man, Woman and Child’ by Erich Segal
A book that changed my way of viewing life: ‘Men, Women & Children’ by Erich Segal’
Man, Woman and Child, three basic names that constitute a family, a separate universe. Title of a novel that left me spellbound and yet aware to search the fine threads that weave intricate patterns of relationships.
Erich Segal is in my humble opinion a brilliant writer, his basic storylines are the pillars upon which the structure of magical words are built. To be very honest I was not much impressed with his supposed masterpiece ‘Love story’, it failed to release the teary overflow that my sister enjoyed. But Robert and Sheila Beckwith are characters that remain alive in my mind having tried to seek semblance between their personas and those of couples around me. For a Pakistani growing up in the deeply entrenched dictates of traditions and customs the precocity of the Beckwith’s daughters was a startling contrast, symbols of a free world where expression and actions are aired without much hesitation.
The story is painted against the backdrop of a twenty year old almost perfect marriage. A union where the man and woman are equal partners held together with the glue of love and how the memory of a past indiscretion comes to damage it all, in the form of a nine year old boy.
I read this book and ‘My Feudal Lord’ by Tehmina Durrani around the same time. The newspapers were ablaze those days with the story of how a cleric had committed horrific atrocities against his wife. In our country the struggle for woman to achieve their rights rages till to date and still the men cannot be blamed for the mindset with which they have been raised.
The book progresses on a parallel track with Robert Beckwith discovering the existence of his illegitimate son, Jean-Claude. Admitting that all fathers have a soft spot for their daughters, the universal bonding between father and son is highlighted by the hunger felt by a man who finds one so suddenly. Life is unpredictable; one phone call casts a storm of insecurities in an otherwise happy existence. A man who can barely remember details of his brief affair has to refresh his memory and answer why he was unfaithful to the great love of his life.
I believe my knowledge and appreciation of a woman’s psychology increased tremendously after reading about Sheila. The author paints her to be a modern woman, beautiful and intelligent and yet she is plagued by a sense of inadequacyas this revelation becomes apparent. Brings to mind my mother’s saying that a woman can tolerate everything except another female in her man’s life. Participation in some ‘War against Rape’ seminars enabled one to meet many women who have suffered mental abuse in the form of polygamous partners. Did all of them have idyllic situations like Sheila before Bob’s ex-lover died in an accident? Would any normal woman extend her maternal armto such a child? Are all questions that emerged in my thinking?
And to include the description of this form of love, most books, films and many other art forms lead us to believe that ‘love’ is just a link between a couple, a pair. This not very long novel reads the various types that can exist. Between a man and the son whom he grows to love out of will and not from birth under obligation. And of friends who have shared secrets over a span of decades, their comradeship being carried forth in the next generation. Paula the younger daughter tries to cling onto her father after Jean-Claude’s paternity is disclosed because his love is her security.
Not to forget Robert who did commit a wrong but seeks forgiveness from the one person whom he has hurt the most. Humanity is a trait that familiarises you instantly with a topic, we seek to identify characters and empathise with them. Two hundred and fifteen pages of another man’s problems may not alter my life but it will serve as a faint reference in the times ahead.