17/01/2014

The Return of Hyman Kaplan (by Leo Rosten)

I remember reading and very much liking the books by Leo Rosten about Hyman Kaplan when I was a teenager, enjoying the linguistic intricacies of students attempting to learn the English language in America. I was thrilled to find the first one - 'The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N', a couple of years ago, and looked for some time for its sequel, discovering it inexpensively on the AwesomeBooks site at the end of last year.

'The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N' charts another year in the beginners' grade of the American Night Preparatory School for Adults  - what, I suppose, we would call TEFL today. The wonderfully patient and inspiring Mr Parkhill continues to plan interesting lessons for his multi-national group of students, regularly interrupted by the larger-than-life Mr Kaplan.

Stereotypes abound; the humour is at the expense of those for whom English is difficult, although sometimes it turns out that the joke is in fact on the absurdities of the language, while the students' logic is impeccable. Mr Kaplan stars in every chapter, full of his own importance, and yet generous, open-minded, and determined to learn, one way or another.

It's years since I read this book, so I was delighted to find it. Although I remembered a lot of the stories, they were still amusing and prompted a few chuckles. I wouldn't rate it as 'hilarious' as its contemporary reviewers did - this was first published in 1960 - but I enjoyed reading this very much, along with the introduction of my 2000 re-print, which places it in context for 21st century readers.

Recommended, if you don't mind this kind of stereotyped humour.

Not currently in print, although second-hand versions are more common than they used to be; however, I'm pleased to see that the Hyman Kaplan books have now been issued in Kindle form, both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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