Oct 8th, 2008 by Shalee
That’s really the official title on the book, but you will need to look it up at your library like this: The Education of H*Y*M*A*N*K*A*P*L*A*N by Leo Calvin Rosten. Originally published as a series of stories in a magazine, these stories were finally collected into book form, flowing from one class of to another. Each chapter revolves around an evening tutelage with a fastidious instructor and the multiple Jewish and Italian immigrants who are trying to learn and understand the new English language. The setting is the American Night Preparatory School for Adults in New York City in the 1930s, with Hyman Kaplan, student extraordinaire (but not in the sense that you think I mean), as the main character and the kind and patient Mr. Parkhill as the continually baffled teacher who is striving to teach English in the midst of great grammatical and linguistic challenges.
(I’m writing this next part as Hyman would have written/spoken it so that you can feel for the comedic nature of the book and the mind of the man who will make you love the book.)
H*Y*M*A*N*K*A*P*L*A*N, ladies an’ gantlema, is a lidder of pipples, an perspirink, fentistik spicker wit a troo seense ot trama. He fudge heez own pats, meck heez own rulz. Unforchoonitel, dose rulz unly rarlay metch wit dose ot grimmer, spallink an’ prenanzeaion proninctun prenunssion (Dat is hod void!) how saz ze void exactel rites. My! An’ tso he iternallys floonks da begeennerz’ grehde in Hengleesh despit hawing bote freend an’ foe. Hau Kay! (Is to gave hadakes, but is fun ackchul!)
Despite what you just read above, it’s an easy read, once you get the hang of Hyman’s accent. And it’s impossible to read this book and not laugh out loud. Hyman, for all his mistakes, is a winner of a character, not a loser. We are never laughing at Hyman’s but with him, as we appreciate the struggles of all immigrants, those seventy years ago or those today, to overcome to challenges of becoming Americans and learning the language that binds us together. This book is testimony to the talents and determinations of immigrants as well as their failings and tribulations.
This book deserves to be rediscovered. It’s hilarious, joyful, innocent, not to mention the writings of a classic. This is the kind of material that should be in every high school, not only for its excellent writing, but so that students can see the struggles of immigrants. These trials can be hard, but one’s attitude determines whether or not the outcome is enjoyable and lively. You can’t help but love Hyman all the way to the end.
Oh, and I’m putting it on my Great Desserts listing. It is that good.