Ms. Abrehet Misghina’s, Finot, a novel about a high-school teacher, is a singular book for it forces readers to reflect on the choices they may make in their daily life, which ultimately determines whether people are fulfilled or not in life, as Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and Somerset Maugham’s short story, ‘The Happy Man,’ do. Through Bruk’s story, the novel (which also relates another parallel story, Saba’s and Aman’s love story) raises and dramatises man’s search for meaningful and fulfilling experience, and for this reason I find it interesting.
As a former teacher, Ms. Abrehet wrote about an issue that she intimately knows and experiences she has lived herself. Ms. Abrehet Misghina was born in Halay, Eritrea, and raised in Dessie, Ethiopia. She got her diploma in teaching from Kotebe Teachers’ College in 1981. She got her BA in literature from Addis Ababa University in 1996. She has taught at different high schools in Eritrea and Ethiopia, in addition to training teachers at the Asmara Community College of Education. She got her Master’s in Linguistics from Euclid University in 2012.
She started her writing career with the translation of a book to Tigrigna in 2010. She wrote ‘Meadi Libweled’ (‘A Feast of Fiction’) two years later. ‘Meadi Libweled’ is a text that gives readers basic information about literature: poetry, drama, short stories, and novel, and is intended to help them heighten their appreciation of literary texts, by showing them how successful literary texts are composed, and how writers use these elements effectively to create joy and entertain readers. In addition, Ms. Abrehet acquaints aspiring writers with how they may use these techniques or elements if they seek to compose their fiction, poetry, and plays that entertain and give joy.
Finot shows how the elements and techniques Ms. Abrehet shared with readers in Meadi Libweled are applied. In other words, ‘Meadi Libweled’ provides the theory while Finot shows the techniques at work. My purpose here is to discuss an idea I found fascinating (in the novel), which affects every one of us during our lifetime. Should people follow their hearts or follow their purses? Using Bruk’s story, she dramatizes this idea and shows how people who follow their hearts and people who follow their purses live.
Finot shows the ups and downs of people committed to their profession and calling, and the challenges they face as they try to live their calling. In the novel, as the main character in Maugham’s story does briefly, and in Frost’s poem, Bruk (the dedicated teacher) hesitates as to which course of action he should take in different phases of his life. For example, he sees first hand his profession is not rewarding him financially, and to supplement his income he works as an ‘accountant’ in an internet café. However, Bruk is tempted when he sees other former teachers prospering when they got another job.
Financially challenged, Bruk tries to find a way out of his poverty. But he is also challenged by his calling: educating the young generation, which gives him lots of satisfaction and joy. Time and again, he is compelled to make a decision: should he remain a teacher, be faithful to his calling (or listen to his heart) or find another financially rewarding job (with no job satisfaction)?
Bruk, who is born into a very poor family, finds himself in a dilemma and struggles to improve his family’s lot in life. On the other hand, his parents have one dream, like most Eritrean parents, to see him married off and settled. However, Bruk has other things to worry about: the trustworthiness of women. Aren’t all women like his former girlfriend? All cheats and undependable? How can he trust any woman after what his former girlfriend did to him? That is another difficulty he has to face and overcome if he is to marry, lead a settled life, and have peace of mind.
However hard they may try, his parents cannot realize their dream for their son for they are dirt-poor and have no resources to wed him off in the way the society expects them to, the community-approved way. Their dream is to give the community a wedding reception everyone would laud, and speak admiringly about long after it has passed. To do that, his parents must have a lot of money. It is not cheap and easy to wed a son off in Bruk’s community.
His father has paid and contributed financially to other people’s weddings as his friends, relatives, and acquaintances invited him when they wedded their children. Naturally, he expects them to do the same for him. He expects to be repaid. If he didn’t invite the people who invited him to their children’s weddings, there is no way he could recover the contributions he had made. Similarly, Bruk’s mother dreams of the day when her son would be wed. She thinks about this day during her waking hours and literally dreams of it during the night.
Here the child’s and the parents’ goals diverge. Though Bruk desires to marry and wants to lead a settled life, this is not a priority for him. The novel narrates the complications that arise out of Bruk’s decisions. Innocently, he signs a piece of document that allows his girl-friend to travel out of the country, believing that she would marry him later. However, she leaves the country without revealing her true intentions, which he later realizes. This breaks his heart and robs him of his innocence. After that day, he becomes another man, a man that trusts no women. This incident, more than any other, has a lasting impact on Bruk and often stops him from tying the knot, and ushering in his happiness. On this issue, because of his traumatic experiences, Bruk doesn’t follow most men and women, and he chooses to take the road less traveled.
In the novel, there is a parallel love story, Aman’s and Saba’s. Sab, at first, refuses to marry Aman but then changes her mind. Aman’s and Saba’s story, unlike Bruk’s, is a conflict-less story, and this makes it less interesting than Bruk’s, as Aman and Saba seem to agree on almost everything.
For me, Bruk represents the choices people make about their personal and professional lives. Should people’s number one concern be money or happiness, if they cannot have both at the same time? Should they have a job that fulfills them or a job that rewards them financially, if they cannot find a job that can do both at the same time?
In the story, Bruk doesn’t abandon his teaching profession for a financially rewarding job. Seeing Bruk suffer economically, we expect him to make the decision to switch to another job, a decision one of his former colleagues did. Seeing also that Bruk’s colleague led a comfortable life, the reader is made to ask himself or herself if Bruk had taken the right decision. For what is money if it gave one no happiness? Isn’t it much better to be poor and live a happy life than be rich and lead a life of discontent?
Here, one agrees with Somerset Maugham’s main character, ‘In the Happy Man’, who observes at the end of the story: ‘You told me when last I saw you,’ he tells the narrator. ‘[T]hat if I came here I should earn enough money to keep body and soul together, but that I should lead a wonderful life. Well, I want to tell you that you were right. Poor I have been and poor I shall always be, but by heaven I’ve enjoyed myself. I wouldn’t exchange the life I’ve had with that of any king in the world.’
Bruk is a rare character, and as I have suggested above, many people take him for a fool for many of the decisions he has taken. A woman in the story misjudges him, wrongly concluding that he had taken money from his girlfriend to sign that paper. But as a character I find him admirable, very courageous, like Dr. Stephens in the Maugham story. True, Bruk’s numerous decisions were conditioned by circumstances and he was compelled to take them. But it is also true that he could have taken other decisions. His many conscious decisions show his bravery, self-sacrifice, and determination. He stood by his sister when she needed him most. He didn’t let other people’s pressure compel him into something he didn’t believe in. In short, we admire Bruk for his mature decisions and selfless behaviour, which all contribute to his fulfillment and peace of mind.
Of course, the choices we have in this world are not as neat as the one posed to Bruk: satisfaction or money. Very often, most of us accept harsh offers for their attractive financial incentives. Only a few ‘crazy’ people take the road less travelled: be poor but happy. More often, however, we do not stop and think. We just take decisions others have taken before us. We just take the well-trodden road.