Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Ella Minnow Pea
by Mark Dunn
Don't let the subtitle scare you away. To do a rough translation, it means "a fable about letters that is written in a progressively limited way." To some of you this may sound a little boring, but trust me, it is a fascinating and fun story with an underlying message that reminds us all of the importance of our freedoms, particularly the freedom of speech. At first it seems like a simple little story about an imaginary land called Nollop, which is named after a man who invented the pangram (a sentence which uses all the letters of the alphabet). Their society is focused around words and language, and all is well until the letter Z falls down off the monument commemorating the pangram. Some see it as a simple accident, while others see it as a "sign" and decide to make it illegal to use the letter Z in any spoken or written communication. This begins a chain of events which leads to, as one review says so well, a "linguistic siege". Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living in Nollop who sets out to save her society.
What is particularly clever about this book is that the author himself is under his own writing constraints, as laid out by the book, and reading his sentences as letters disappear is challenging, funny, and sometimes infuriating. The title alone gives you an idea of the word play throughout. It is engaging and an easy read, despite all the "wordy" references. A cleverly written book that makes an important point about how we should never become complacent about fighting for our freedoms.