Into The Wild

Jack London’s exploration of a dog’s life from being a pet to a sled dog to a ferocious beast in his short novel ‘The Call Of The Wild‘ is immensely intense and delightful. The story is set at the time when gold was discovered in ‘the frozen North’ and there was a great demand for the sled dogs as means of transportation in the Arctic. The protagonist of the novel is a half St. Bernard and half Scotch Shepherd dog named Buck who initially lived a life of ‘a sated aristocrat’ in Judge Miller’s house in Santa Clara Valley. But that was until the treacherous gardener

Manuel stole him and sold him to a couple of dog traders as a result of which Buck ended up as a part of a dog team. It is here that he learnt the rule of the club, knew about what it is to be part of a team and a pack; learnt how to work hard etc. It was for him the first initiative into the wild, the primitive, the instinctual and the uncivilized. He soon adapted to the harsh demands of being a sled dog and gradually there arose within him ‘stirrings of old instincts’ that made him intimately aware of his wild origins. From all the incessant  brutality and cruelty of his world, Buck was fortunately rescued by the gentle yet strict John Thornton who nursed him back to health and to whom Buck became fiercely loyal. With him Buck had a curious relationship-one in which he allowed his primordial instincts to take over and he went hunting for days on at a stretch but always came back to Thornton and his camp. In the end however, the ‘call of the wild’ overwhelmed Buck and he soon plunged into the wild, the forests to meet his ancestral instincts raging within him.

The Call of the Wild‘ is like a bildungsroman of sorts as it traces the progress of Buck. It intricately shows his transformation, from a pet to a primitive ferocious beast. Jack London’s writing is gripping and fascinating. It takes the reader into the mind of Buck (similar was the case with his book, ‘White Fang’). London’s detailing is meticulous to say the least-every other aspect whether its Buck’s anatomy, his primeval thoughts, the cruelty meted out to him, the landscape-is rich in detail. The narrative is pretty straightforward and direct. It is visual, precise and to the point. It is a balanced mix of adventure, action, excitement as well as meditation and interiority. The narrative is replete with bursts of actions and adventure which is interspersed with Buck’s thoughts. The external occurrences are often the cause of Buck’s mental states through different stages of his life.

The Call of the Wild‘ is a short yet powerful and intense novel which is packed with intricate details and multifarious themes-loyalty of animals to man, the primitive instinctual nature of all creatures, the cruel treatment of animals by humans etc. The novel will undoubtedly be a compelling read as it has the pace of a thriller and the intensity of a period piece.

A classic case of human madness!

Getting stranded on an island and surviving there until rescue from the civilized world is a theme commonly used in both literature(Robinson Crusoe,Swiss Family Robinson,Coral Island etc.) and cinema(Cast Away).Most often these are meant to be adventurous novels/films. However, one gripping novel that explored this theme veers away from this norm and manifests a completely new idea. It depicts a bleak picture of humanity.

And this path breaking novel, often considered a classic, was published in 1954 written by William Golding who titled it, ‘The Lord of the Flies.’

Taken from goodreads.com

The plot focuses on a bunch of boys ,who seem to have survived a plane crash, are stranded on an island with no grown ups around. None of the boys are older than 13 and they quickly figure out that they are on their own and there aren’t any elders around. So it is they who have to take care of themselves. Among the many boys, Ralph, who possesses a distinct leadership quality and a conch shell he found on the island, is voted as the boys’ leader. He successfully is able to take this mini election away from Jack, another older boy who is the leader of a choir group and is vying for the post of chief.  Piggy, a fat, sluggish boy gradually becomes Ralph’s side kick cum assistant and later on, Ralph’s only true,rational support. These three along with another one named Simon explore the island and realise it is not inhabited. Ralph sincerely hopes for rescue for which he orders all boys to light a fire up on the mountain. While Jack is mostly motivated to hunt and provide everyone with pig meat. Gradually, Jack begins resenting Ralph’s powerful status and his obsession with the fire and rescue. Jack forms his own tribe who only hunt and enjoy and forget all about being rescued. Savages are what Jack’s party turn into and Ralph becomes very much alone in his quest for rescue with little support from Piggy who constantly keeps reminding him of the need to be rational and civilized. So what began as a peaceful, fun loving society among these innocent boys gets degenerated into savagery and violence. Will they ever be rescued? Read on to find out all about it.

‘Lord of the Flies‘ is an allegorical novel that has numerous quite obvious symbols. Golding does not present the readers with an adventurous tale of survival and rescue. Instead what he does is to show the many pitfalls of humans and how power corrupts. The novel shows the depraved, devious ways the human mind can function in. Golding examines human nature and the inherent evil that lies within everyone. ‘The Lord of the Flies‘ shattered the myth that children are innocent, that they are incapable of doing anything evil. In the book, we see numerous instances when these mere schoolboys are turned into violent monsters who will do anything for power, who love to control each other, love to inflict pain etc. We can also see these boys as symbols for the warring countries. Certain subtle hints in the novel do suggest that a war is happening in the civilized world. Perhaps then, ‘Lord of the Flies‘ is a biting commentary on the WWII and how nations ripped each other apart senselessly. Another view could be the book’s intention to make the reader realise of the evil present within each one of us.

There are a multitude of ways of reading this wonderful,thought provoking as well as questioning novel.

Providing a glimpse into human’s defects and the society’s, ‘Lord of the Flies‘ is highly recommended for readers of all ages. And those looking for just pleasure reading will be stupefied by the profound message that the novel puts across with its storyline.

A Literary Memoir

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a poignant, personal story penned beautifully by the author, Azar Nafisi, about her own life during the revolution in Iran, her own touching memories, her remembrance of these times interspersed with the books she taught in her classes in Iran. An engrossing book, a moving story that provides a glimpse into not only the political turmoil in Iran but the torment and anguish experienced by Nafisi herself and many of her students.

The story begins with Nafisi’s formation of a secret class that studies literature, discusses it and puts those stories into the context of their lives. The members were chosen by Nafisi-all were females, former students who showed great interest and enthusiasm about literature. The narration then reverts back into the past, recording Nafisi’s early days, first in the U.S. and then when she returns to Iran-the beginning of strife, dissent and the eventual establishment of the revolution over the country. In this way, the story gives the reader a more intimate glimpse(although a one sided glimpse) into life during those times-an intimacy that no reporting could ever hope to accomplish. The novel ends with Nafisi going back to the U.S. with her husband and two children, leaving behind her secret classes with whom she had so personally become involved, yet persistently aiming to cherish those beautiful memories even after she leaves Iran.

As the title suggests-‘Reading Lolita in Tehran-A Memoir In Books,’ its a memoir but not just any memoir but rather a memoir that looks at her life through the lens of several literary books penned by Nabokov,Austen, Fitzgerald and James. Therefore, one condition for readers of this novel is that they should have a passion for literature, to comprehend literature’s ability to help people deal with their real life and gauge its shortcomings, only then will he reader appreciate the books and understand why Nafisi so effortlessly mixes her real world with that of the literary. Otherwise the book will appear like a sordid literature class, which is not Nafisi’s intention. Having read the books by the aforementioned authors will further widen the reader’s understanding of the interspersing of literary and real lives that Nafisi had incorporated in the book. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is not just about her students, her secret classes and her life but also about how literature affects them and how it enables them to know each other and their lives better, allows them to live more freely etc.

The book also helps us to know the different views people held about the Islamic Republic of Iran, about the revolution, about the veil, about Ayatollah Khomeini etc. These opinions could be interpreted anyway that the reader wishes them though some are heavily colored by Nafisi’s own judgment. For example,initially, there is a constant repetition of the curtailment of women’s rights specifically of  being forced to wear the burkha/veil/chador. Nafisi mentions it in almost every sentence which is unnatural, almost like the publisher forced her to perpetually put them in along with her story so that it not only enlarges their suffering but also reinforces the West’s idea of how backward Islam is and how it must go and save these women from such atrocities. Its only later on that such repetitions reduce, that she begins giving concrete reasons for her defiant opposition to the rule forcing her to wear her veil. It is only then that the reader can see a broader context to the whole issue.  Nafisi was clearly against the totalitarian regime that the revolution ushered in that clamped down on women’s rights as well as freedom of expression and this is manifested in the book lucidly.

The parallels that Nafisi manages to make between their life in Iran and the great literary works shows her unbridled passion for literature. The novel is thus in parts a story narrating the author’s personal life before, during and after the revolution and in parts it is like a literature class fascinating in its own rights for it broadens the reader’s horizons of great works of English literature in an Iranian context.

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a mesmerizing recollection of a life steeped in the love of literature and in inculcating and encouraging that love in other fellow students, in making others including the readers, see that literature’s role in real life is far more valuable then we believe.