Sunday, January 01, 2006

beST book of 2005

My best book of 2005 was written in 1788. "Paul and Virginia" by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is an old classic out of France that I wish I had known about earlier. Set on the tropical island of Mauritius when it was a French colony, the book abounds with geographic and botanical descriptions, and provides us with a snapshot of the culture and human side of those faraway times. On another level the book is very philosophical. The author was a contemporary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and shared his view that a return nature was the best cure for a deeply corrupted European civilization. The story illustrates these simple principles beautifully through its sympathetic cast of characters. There is deep sadness and tragedy on these pages but also a redeeming message: happiness is close at hand. Don't let society and manmade entanglements separate you from it.

I was worried that a book so old might seem archaic and disconnected from our contemporary predicament. On the contrary, I read it in both French and English and in both languages the words flowed like honey. It is very close in form and spirit to Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea", with the difference of France instead of England and the East Indies instead of the Caribbean. The books share a similar message: choose nature over Europe.


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