75 Hunger Games

hungergamesby Suzanne Collins, 2008

One question that I’ve come across in language learning forums is whether reading books in translation is a good way to learn your target language. Some are firmly against this idea, claiming that you won’t learn as much from a translated book as you would from a book originally written in your target language, but I disagree. True, the depth of the language won’t be the same in a non-translated book, but when you’re first learning a language, I think it’s okay to take it easy on yourself. I find there are many benefits to reading translated books, especially ones that I’ve read before. For one, I already know what happens in the story and I won’t get confused simply because I don’t understand every single word. Two, I can use my prior knowledge of the story to help figure out certain words and phrases. And three, if it’s a book I’ve read and liked before, I won’t get frustrated or bored and quit reading.

So, that’s how I’ve come to start reading The Hunger Games in French. It may not be as complex as, say, Les Miserables, but there’s still plenty of vocabulary and grammar for me to absorb and the challenge is all the more bearable because I’m reading a book that I love. Because I’m still learning French pronunciation, I decided to listen to the audiobook as well. I would read one chapter and take as much time as I needed to understand it, then listen to it at a normal speed. I hope this helps improve my listening skills as well as my reading skills. (However, I did not post this review in French because I had too many things to say about the book and my French writing skills are not up to par. Also, because I’m feeling lazy.)

Reading this book slowly and deliberately in French reminded me just how fantastic it is. If, for some reason, you’ve been living under a pop culture rock, the book focuses on a post-apocalyptic America (now called “Panem”) where the government has decreed that, in remembrance of the hardships of war, two children from each of the remaining twelve districts will come together each year in a televised fight to the death called “The Hunger Games.” When young Primrose Everdeen is chosen, her sister Katniss leaps to volunteer, taking her place in what is certain to be her demise. The story follows Katniss’s preparation for and participation in the games with her male compatriot Peeta.

Like the best sci-fi and speculative fiction does, The Hunger Games calls upon current social issues to inform the story’s conflict. There is a vast social and class divide between the districts and the Capitol. Unlike the Capitol citizens who strive for youth and thinness, Katniss’s district values age and corpulence because they signify survival. Likewise, while the Games are merely a reality show on which to wager bets and watch from the comfort of Capitol homes, they are literally a matter of life and death for the less privileged. Life is a game to the upper class and Katniss must decide whether she will play or along or take a stand against it.

It is refreshing to see that in spite of this great divide, The Hunger Games also shows the ability of individual compassion. In Cinna and Flavius, Venia, and Octavia – Katniss’s prep team – and later in Effie Trinket, the district’s hostess, we are witness to the power of human sympathy to reach across that social divide. Collins could have easily fashioned this into an “us vs. them” conflict, but it is far more powerful to see how everyone is struggling within their social bonds, regardless of which side they’re on.

It is easy to dismiss fiction as a meaningless way to pass the time, but there is true social value to be found here. Do we silently sit by while those we love are hurt? Do we acquiesce to playing in their game of hatred and violence? Do we believe the lies fed to us by the ruling class? Do we risk standing up for our beliefs in face of death? Can we reach across the divide and strive for understanding? These are the questions posed in this book. These are the questions we have asked ourselves throughout history. These are the questions we are asking ourselves today.

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