Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott here. Barry is back today with his review of The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n by Leonard Q. Ross.
THE EDUCATION OF H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937) by Leonard Q. Ross
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
During the 1930s, Leo Rosten, under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross, wrote a series of comical short stories published in The New Yorker about Hyman Kaplan, an immigrant attending Mr. Parkhill's class at the American Night Preparatory School for Adults ("English—Americanization—Civics—Preparation for Naturalization").
Why the stars between the letters of Kaplan's name? Because that's the way he writes it on the assignments he turns in, as explained in "The Rather Difficult Case of Mr. K*a*p*l*a*n," the first story in the book: "[Mr. Parkhill] turned the page over and read the name. It was printed in large, firm letters with red crayon. Each letter was outlined in blue. Between every two letters was a star, carefully drawn, in green." It isn't long before Parkhill realizes that Kaplan's will be a challenging case, as demonstrated by his efforts in Recitation and Speech, and in English composition. In the former categories, for instance, he says the "most famous tree American wriders" are "Jeck Laundon, Valt Viterman, and the author of 'Hawk L. Barry-Feen,' one Mocktvain. Mr. Kaplan took pains to point out that he did not mention Relfvaldo Amerson because 'He is a poyet, an' I'm talkink abot wriders.'" The remainder of the story, which will definitely elicit readers' smiles and, possibly, out-and-out laughter, concerns the meaning of the word "vast" and Parkhill trying to answer Kaplan's question about the meaning of what "sounded, in Mr. Kaplan's rendition, like 'a big department.'"
In "Mr. K*a*p*l*a*n, the Comparative, and the Superlative," Parkhill has delayed calling upon Kaplan for two weeks to present his composition for an analysis by the class. But everyone else has written his or her hundred-word composition entitled "My Job," so Parkhill can't put it off any longer. The comments, corrections and debates between Kaplan and Parkhill and Kaplan and classmates lead to a comical lesson about positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives.
"Mr. K*a*p*l*a*n's Hobo" has our hero once again participating in a Recitation and Speech session, this time talking about the joys of a vacation: "De sky! De son! De stoss! De clods. De frash air in de longs. All—all is pot from Netcher!" He prefaces this by explaining his "hobo," which leads to corrections by Parkhill and Miss Mitnick, and arguments with Mr. Bloom, and Mrs. Moskowitz. (No, I'm not going to reveal what "hobo" actually means.)
By now you get the idea, sparing me the need to mention the premise of every story: each of the fifteen concerns Mr. Parkhill (whom Kaplan addresses as "Mr. Pockheel") calling on various students to present compositions or to answer questions about assignments, and Kaplan presenting in his own unique manner his takes on said assignments, usually with bizarre logic and comical results. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't single out the must-read "Mr. K*a*p*l*a*n and Shakespeare," in which Kaplan presents his interpretation of the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech from Macbeth—as perceived by "Julius Scissor."
If you love the English language and wordplay, and have a sense of humor, you'll definitely grin your way through The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n and, most likely, laugh out loud more than a few times as I did. Highly recommended.
Barry Ergang © 2014