FAR NORTH

Far North - Marcel Theroux You know that Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away, the one where Hank's character is stranded on an island alone and everyone on the plane with him that crashed is dead? He has a few reminders from civilization, undelivered packages, some toys – a volleyball. Now imagine that he never got off the island and imagine that it was really really cold. Now imagine that he met some slavers and what happened after that was not pleasant. Then imagine that he met some opportunists who do anything to control their little area on the island; imagine that there are anthrax spores lying around unchecked and large areas of the island that are contaminated by nuclear radiation. Now imagine that he is either never able to get back to his home country or even if he does get back, what he knew is gone; it no longer exists. Okay, okay, I think after you imagine all of that you may get the gist of this book and you may be able to understand the depth of the loneliness and remoteness that is conveyed by the text. Actually, I am being unfair. The book is not bleak, there is bleakness in the horizon and around the corner or hiding in the woods, but the story itself is not bleak. The story is highly emotional; it is devastating at times but I never stopped cheering for the hero. Really horrible things happen, but so do good things and hope seems always present. Most importantly, this book is written beautifully. It is told from the first person narrative of one character; we see the events and the past through this one character’s perspective. The setting is Siberia in an undefined future. Siberia? Yes, Siberia. What Theroux describes went beyond my imagining of Siberia. It is cold and brutal, but has amazing variety in plant and animal life and is beautiful; harsh, but beautiful. And not this, nothing as fun as this …I feel sort of dirty for throwing that in to a book like this, but I felt the need to lighten the mood!Far North was a National Book award runner up for 2009 and I have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to read it for years. I decided to do the audio version of this book and I was not disappointed – either by the narration nor by the story. If you decide to read this book and enjoy audio books, then I highly recommend the narrated version. A constant theme present in Far North is what we – the civilized world – what we have lost. Technology, art, books, community – all parts of civilization? These are gone. The main character, Makepeace, is tied to the home that the character has always known. When Makepeace leaves this home and is forcibly separated, the character longs for home, thinks of home and fights to get back there. Although home seems to go beyond a place and a house; it definitely includes the location, but Makepeace remembers parents, siblings, the piano, soap and love – all of these are the home that Makepeace longs for and attempts to recapture. The character’s pull for the home of the past that is remembered from childhood and the pull of the house and community that has been “Home” or so long comes to a point where a choice is made. Makepeace begins to long for people and for community and realizes that it is no longer satisfactory to be alone. Thus the journey begins. Without reading the book, it is difficult to understand how the text describes the vastness and solitary nature of the arctic circle. I never thought I would want to visit the arctic circle, much less Siberia but Marcel Theroux has me interested. He created this amazing world that is on the one hand convincing as to why Americans are living in Siberia and on the other hand, convincing as to why society has faded away. The vision of what could be if we continue to ruin our environment and push its limits is frightening. I do not know if I agree about what he believes we will become with the lack of society as a structure; perhaps I don’t want to believe. I guess I only have to look to our past to feudal and slave based societies as a reminder of what was. I have a hope that if there is a break down we do not have to do so in such a violent way. Back to the book … Makepeace is a survivor. The character has the ability to live off of the land in Siberia; to grow anything, hunt and butcher any animal and make products by which to survive. But in surviving, Makepeace is all alone. Theroux says this on his website, “It’s clear that as civilization advances, certain kinds of knowledge become obsolete. The farrier’s son puts on a tie and gets a job in a bank, or at a call centre, or as a tour guide. At the same time, the wide knowledge and physical competence that was characteristic of his forebears is replaced by specialization. This is the price of progress. It’s hard not feel that many of us have lost a once instinctive relationship with fundamental natural processes.” With this thought obviously heavy in mind, Theroux writes the characters which survive as ones with the physical competence to live in this harsh environment; and those that die off are the ones with the precious knowledge and appreciation for books, music and other characteristics of our society but little practical knowledge about day to day survival. This book is reminiscent of lone settlers in the prairie or in the west of the US; in a way it is an adult version of Little House on the Prairie. The difference being that instead of society working toward an apex, society is coming down off its height. Marchel Theroux has a website dedicated to his novels: http://www.thisworldofdew.com/novels/far-north/I highly recommend this book. But warning it can be brutal. To see this review and more like this check out my blog: http://outsidethebounds.blogspot.com/2012/03/review-of-far-north-by-marcel-theroux.html