A childhood discovery and a journey of 1500 pages
I was a barefoot third-grader, playing with hula hoops in a friend’s garage in Āina Haina, when I spied a stack of old comic books.
That was my unlikely introduction to Les Misérables. The foreign words were on the cover of a Classics Illustrated comic book, where a man carrying another was running from pursuers in a rat-infested tunnel.
My playmate and I dropped our hoops and hunched over that top book in the stack. The drawings were dramatic – and even more striking were the words, painting the story of a man who was both hero and crook, good and bad, trusted and untrustworthy, long-suffering and impatient, a man who hated and loved.
We’d found a magic comic book that was not the usual kid stuff of bright, positive absolutes.
Even though the story was set far away and long ago, it resonated deeply. It spoke to the confusing contradictions I’d already experienced in my young life – a father who promised to be home at night but rarely was; an admired teen scholar/ athlete who kicked his dog when he thought no one could see; and the much-feared school bully who was understanding and even gracious when I accidentally hit him in the face with a kickball.
A couple of years later, during summer vacation, I wanted more than the comic book version of Les Misérables. As it turned out (just my luck!), the hardcover novel is one of the longest books in European literature, nearly 1,500 pages. On top of that, I needed to have a second book handy, the dictionary. I still remember the first of many words I looked up: morass.
Reading the novel sometimes felt like slogging through a morass. Author Victor Hugo would digress into long, detailed histories – of the Battle of Waterloo, the construction of Paris sewers and more. Those parts, I skimmed.
However, I was forever held by the main story line which famously starts with Jean Valjean sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his widowed sister’s seven children. The story enveloped me in a world in which I was often trying to decipher the boundaries of right and wrong, good and evil, war and peace, love and hate.
Later, when I covered poverty as a journalist, I would return to Les Misérables to re-read this stinging quote: “There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”
Since childhood, I’ve always been eager to see new adaptations of Les Misérables, on stage and screen. I hope you’ll join me in spirit, on the community sofa, to view this latest PBS television presentation.
Les Misérables on MASTERPIECE
Sundays at 8:00 pm
April 14 – May 19, 2019
on PBS Hawaiʻi
Learn more about Les Misérables
in our program guide cover story by
Jody Shiroma, VP of Communications, PBS Hawaiʻi.