With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dutch Point: A Hartford Novel

This blog has given us the opportunity to do a handful of things that we might not have otherwise done.  When Kareem R. Muhammad contacted us about reading his book Dutch Point a couple months ago, book reviewer got added to that list.  Having been vociferous readers for most of our lives we felt qualified to give it an attempt.

Dutch Point is a self-published, fictional novel based in Hartford and focuses primarily on Andrew Edwards, a Hartford social worker.   Mr. Muhammed himself has spent over a decade as a Hartford social worker investigating cases of abuse and neglect, which lends credibility to the characters and situations we encounter throughout the book.   Having had social workers as family members and close friends we know from first-hand accounts that social workers encounter some of the most horrific situations imaginable and deal with some of the most unsavory people imaginable. Dutch Point gives us a glimpse into that world.

We here are the last ones to pretend that our city is a utopian place bereft of such ills as poverty, violence, and drug abuse.  In fact we accept those problems as just part of the deal that goes along with living in a city.  Long time readers know that this entire blog is pretty much based on taking Hartford's problems with a grain of salt, rolling our eyes, and moving along.

Dutch Point serves as a reminder of the worst parts of society that, if we were all really honest with ourselves, the vast majority of us would just as soon like to forget exist.  Child abuse and neglect, child rape and the child sex trade are all explored in Dutch Point.  The novel reminded us of the film Precious,  a look into a world that most of us not only will never see, but will never really have the ability to process or fathom.

The fact that Dutch Point is set in Hartford appeals to us and we assume would appeal to Sad City readers. Through the novel familiar streets, parks and places are visited. Heck even our old friend the Park River gets a mention.  While Dutch Point tells part of Hartford's history, it often does so through dialogue that seems forced and unnatural.  To be fair dialogue is hard to write, if you don't believe us you should give it a try, or alternatively, just watch the Star Wars films.

There are other nit-picky points.  One part of the story is told through the diary of a character.  On more than one occasion, the character writes that she went to "downtown Hartford" As a resident of Hartford, we would never say, much less write in a diary we went to "downtown Hartford" it would simply just be "downtown." Again a minor point.

Finally another gripe, which is really just a general pet peeve.  Clearly people want fantastic endings.  Dutch Point has a fantastic ending.  Nearly every novel or movie ends with a fantastic culmination of the protagonist defeating the antagonist, getting the girl, or some other fantastic variation of the sort.  Hate this.  The last non-fiction novel we read before Dutch Point was Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire (the second in the series). We found the ending so ridiculous we wanted to pitch which had otherwise been a good book right out the window.  Somehow something like War & Peace which just kind of wraps up after 1,000 pages appeals more.  But that is clearly a minority opinion.

For those looking to support a local author and  get a glimpse into some of the horrors that social workers and police in Hartford encounter, Dutch Point is a good read. Just the fact that the setting is Hartford and so many familiar streets and landmarks are in the novel brings Dutch Point to life.  It can be purchased on Amazon here. Mr. Muhammed's website is here. (warning: music will play when you open the site) and he can be reached via email here.  His biography and description of Dutch Point is below.

" I grew up in White Plains New York and West Hartford CT. I graduated with a degree in Psychology from Eastern Connecticut State in 1999. I have worked for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families since 1999 and in the capacity as an investigative social worker for the past 10 years. As an investigator I investigate cases of abuse and neglect. I have lived in Hartford going on 10 years.

Dutch Point is a self-published novel.  Although fictional, it is a local story, written by a local artist. The title was no coincidence. Hartford’s Dutch Point is not just the plot where the story takes place. In fact, the city of Hartford is one of its main characters. The connection between the reader and the characters happens because – and – through Hartford.

For instance, Andrew Edwards, the main character in this suspense novel, is a Hartford social worker who investigates abuse and neglect in the city. Through out the book, Andrew and all the other characters walk through Hartford’s history as Dutch Point the story takes shape. The parallel between our lives, as Hartford residents or workers, and the lives of Andrew, Cassandra, Madeline and the other fictional characters is that we too unconsciously walk through history everyday while we go on with our own lives, neglecting – just like them – our city. Many of the issues you bring up on your blog can also run parallel to some of the subjects in the book. Be it neglect of the city or children or the corruption that your blog mentions on the political front.

One of the questions that I, as a first time author, Hartford resident and social worker, want to raise is not what has Hartford become, but rather What have we done with the glorious Hartford of the Mark Twain time? In other words: Why do we allow its abuse, and why do we ourselves neglect this city, that in past times was an important and influential landmark, with very relevant residents – some of whom we’ve just forgotten in abandoned cemeteries through out the city.

Dutch Point is also a detailed constructed novel about people, abuse, self-destruction, and freedom. Dutch Point characters are painfully “real”, and so are their struggles. The book invites the reader to see the ugly truth, as well as the demons we recognize but avoid at all costs to deal with: the lack of values and compassion of a society we have created. Dutch Point is more than a place, is a state of mind. It is the struggle to survive and to be loved. You don’t have to live in Hartford to relate to that.

Dutch Point is not only a novel to entertain, but rather, to raise questions, and to discuss, in a hope of better understanding of our past, present and future actions as a community. Through outlets such as your blog it can encourage dialogue, and that is precisely my desire as a writer: to present my book in an atmosphere of art, social engagement and dialogue-though you say at times the written dialogue feels forced. I know I don’t have all the answers and don’t intend to. What I want is exactly what you did. To question the ideas presented in the book, to question your self about what is read and question the world that we live in.  Writing Dutch point I feel was an important step towards completing my objective of passing along some of the untold stories of the Hartford of our time and to create – among other things – social awareness."

1 comment:

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