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Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters Paperback – September 17, 2002
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“A love letter to alphabetarians and logomaniacs everywhere.” —Myla Goldberg
“A curiously compelling . . . satire of human foibles, and a light-stepping commentary on censorship and totalitarianism.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“This exceptional, zany book will quickly make you laugh.” —Dallas Morning Herald
From the Inside Flap
*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (September 17, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385722435
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385722438
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I was a quick read and I highly recommend it, especially for wordsmiths who love words and the English language. It really was genius.
If you are looking for an intelligent read, with a dense plot and fully developed characters centered around totalitarianism, censorship vs free speech, superstition vs science – this is not the book for you. Quite frankly – there are far better books for that. If you are looking for a quick, pleasant read and some mental stimulation – this is the book for you (you can read this book in its entirety in a mere afternoon). The story is told through a series of letters between citizens of Nollop – and it becomes more challenging to read these exchanges as an increasing number of letters are banned. At first – seemingly less common and unimportant letters conveniently fell from the statue. No worries. Child’s play. But as the story unfolds, there are in fact certain words with such letters that can’t quite be expressed the same with substitutions. Turns out these letters, however infrequently used, are vital members of our alphabet. It certainly becomes a mental challenge to work around illicit letters and communicate the same – and its also a brain teaser just to interpret some messages meanings.
Overall, I give this book 3 stars. Certainly not an in-depth analysis of some intense thought-provoking topics– but it was an overall cute and fun read! A nice change of pace to my usual reads.
The book is composed of letters the main characters send one another, cleverly making up new words to avoid using the banned letters. After her mother and father are exiled, Emma proposes a contest to create a sentence using all the letters of the alphabet, and so the fun begins. Linquistically, , the novel is clever, convincing, and playful. It is also an allegory for authoritarian societies and it works its magic without showing its hand. A delightful read.
Top reviews from other countries
Off the coast of America is an Island called Nollop. Named for the revered Nevin Nollop (deceased), creator of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."
Nollop is not an advanced nation - it's not even keeping up with the rest of the world. But what Nollop lacks in technological advancement, it's makes up for with the adoration of language. The Nollopian's adore words - especially Ella. They adore words, and they idolise the aforementioned Nevin Nollop. A monument to his linguistic prowess stands proud for all to see - tiles with individual letters spelling out the famous pangram.
One day, a tile falls from the monument - the letter Z. The governing body of Nollop - being so fanatically devoted - declare the falling of the tile to represent an instruction from Nollop himself! The message is interpreted to mean the Nollopians should never used the letter Z again. Not in speech, not in writing...and those who break this divine law are severely punished.
The book is written as a series of letters from various Nollopians. As more tiles fall from the aging monument, the Nollopians are forced to abandon the variety of words they adore so much, until they can take no more...
What I liked…
The book itself is an example - albeit a very strange one - of totalitarian government, fanatical religious leadership and censorship. As the letters fall from the monument, so too are they removed from the book. Dunn writes very cleverly, managing to keep as much variety and love of language in each letter, despite the every increasing pressure caused by the rapidly decrease pool of usable letters. It is clever, not just because it is a physically difficult task, but also because Dunn manages to express so much emotion in so many ways, and when Ella's heart breaks, my heart broke too.
The format itself, a series of somewhat connected letters, is a very novel and highly effective form of delivery. It was not just a gimmick - it brought the story to life. It took me a little while to get my head around it, and might have been irritating if the story wasn't so engaging.
Finally, I loved the variety of 'authors' for the letters. The letters are written by many different characters; all with different views and ways of dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. Perhaps one of the most difficult, but most rewarding things about this book is that you find yourself questioning which of the characters approaches you think you would follow if you were in their place. Questions like this are what usually make books about totalitarianism very difficult, and often soul crushing to read - but the admittedly bizarre situation allows you to consider these ethical dilemmas, something which I find really important.
What I disliked…
Nothing. I loved it.
This book seems really strange. The premise is strange, the way it uses an ever decreasing pool of letters is strange. The use of letters instead of 'normal' prose is weird. BUT it is beautiful. It is challenging. It is insightful. It is art.
This book may be better suited to those with an appreciation for linguistic acrobatics, and the art of words, rather than the casual reader - but I would still encourage the casual reader to try it and see. It's more than worth the effort.
If you like the idea of an 'epistolary epigrammatic fable', then you probably don't need to read this review to know that you'll enjoy this book. If you're not particularly enamoured by the idea of the escalating wordplay, you should still give it a go. The title character, Ella, is a delight, and the cast of minor character that are introduced while sticking to the ever-more-complicated constraints are all worth knowing. I re-read this regularly, and recently bought another copy because I'd forgotten who I'd lent it to last. Seriously, if you're considering it, you should give it a go.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 23, 2021
Gradually more tiles fall and the alphabet cut further. The correspondence becomes a wonderful exploration of the variety of the English language. Because it's written in short notes, it's easy to read in sections such as while travelling. But towards the end I just wanted to read it and find out whether they ended up in a world without any words or whether they escape from the harsh punishments for transgression. There are elements of Farenheit 451 and 1984 in this story yet without the futuristic feel, it's way too easy to believe this could happen.