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On the Road : some news

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Since I published my post about On the Road, I read an article in a magazine about it. In 2007, a new version of the novel was published in the United States. This version corresponds to the first written by Jack Kerouac in 1951 on a 50m-long paper roll and was refused by publishers. Apparently, it includes pages that were eliminated and there aren’t anymore alias for the persons (Neal Cassady is no longer named Dean Moriarty and Jack Kerouac appears under his real name). The text isn’t split into chapters.

This new version has just been published in French, so it might be better to read that translation instead of the 1960 one.

On the Road (Jack Kerouac)

May 29, 2010 7 comments

That famous bible of the beat generation was written in 1957 and I read it in French, in a translation by Jacques Houbart, that dates back to 1960. I’m surprised it has been translated in French so soon after it was first published.

I had already read that book when I was a teenager. I didn’t remember anything about it, not even the names of the characters, which is a bad sign. I decided to read it again thinking I may appreciate it more now that I’m older and hoping to read about California. To no avail.

I’m disappointed because I would have loved to read descriptions of cities like San Francisco. I like the style ;  there’s poetry in the way he transcribes into words the images he sees but I got tired of binge drinking and driving experiences. I see how this book was something new when it was published and I understand why it has become a reference book for young people. There’s so much freedom in it. Though I don’t know exactly why, it makes me think of Rimbaud & Baudelaire, and Gérard de Nerval. All French poets of the 19th Century. My mind analyzes it as a good book, from the style, the story but it doesn’t “speak” to me.

Actually, observing the translation was more entertaining than reading the book, as it has not been updated since 1960. In that time, the USA were an exotic country for Frenchmen, seen as a dream country of rich and well fed people. A way of life that the whole generation of the 1960’s will envy and try to imitate. Very few families had a TV and American culture was not as widespread as it is now. It came through soldiers and music. France was backward compared to the USA as WWII had cost a lost to the economy and the country was underdeveloped. The 1950s in France were the years of the colonial wars and accelerated economic development. It was the end of the 4th Republic, a time when a married woman could not work or open a bank account without her husband’s approval.

Jacques Houbart, fulfilling a pedagogical purpose, added foot notes to explain some words or realities unknown to the French reader of 1960. Some of them are still useful : I didn’t know what an “Okie” was and I was grateful to have the foot note to enlighten me. But some of them are funny or puzzling for a 2010 reader like a two lines explanation to describe what a “motel” is or a sentence to point out that “grass” meant marijuana, just in case you would think there were actually smoking lawn or something. It tells a lot about the French society at that time, before mass media and globalization. It sounds so obvious now.

Some words are not translated as they had no equivalent in the French dictionary. For example, the words “supermarket” and “cafeteria” are in English. Whereas supermarkets were created in the USA in the 1930s, the first one opened in France in 1958 near Paris. In 1960, the average Frenchman did not shop in a supermarket. Now, we have powerful retail companies in France and the whole food seems to be sold in supermarkets. We have the word “supermarché” which is commonly used. As long as “cafeteria” is concerned, it is now a French word too.

There is more. The vocabulary is sometimes outdated. The verb “corner” for “hoot” is very old fashioned. I would never have thought to use that word to say “honk”, and I understood what it meant only thanks to the context of the sentence.

The word “motorway” is translated by “autostrade”, which I never heard in French as we use “autoroute”. Indeed, the first major motorway was opened in 1970, linking Lille to Marseille via Paris and Lyon. Again, the French reader of 1960 had no experience of what a motorway could be nor Jacques Houbart, by the way.

I wonder why that translation sounds so outdated. It’s not the first time I read books which were translated a long time ago. Is is because society changed so much or because it makes me realize how the American way of life imposed itself in my country ? It seems to have been written at the end of an era, before our way of life really changed and just before the freedom the 1960s brought.

It reminds me how much freedom I owe to the fights for women rights and to students uprisings of the 1960s and how mass media and globalization affected our everyday lives. Now Western countries are not so different from one another. In North America, everything is bigger than in France (cars, buildings, malls, servings in restaurants…) but you still are in an environment easy to understand. So On the Road had me thinking about that, which has nothing to do with the story of the book! …

Crocodiles, turtles and then squirrels

May 27, 2010 4 comments

The Turtles’ Slow Walz follows The Crocodiles’ Yellow Eyes, which I read last year with pleasure. I was not eager to read the following, though. As I was to spend a whole week-end with half-strangers in a chalet, I thought I’d rather not take Swann’s Way with me. I would not have the quiet environment required to fully appreciate Proust’s lacy prose and follow Swann through his winding passion for Odette. Moreover, I didn’t want to draw attention on me with such a difficult author and look like a boring highbrow. The Turtles’ Slow Walz seemed a safe choice.

 It’s a novel about the life of a family and their relatives. The main character is Josephine, a widower of 43, with two teenage daughters, Hortense and Zoe. Her sister, Iris, is married to Philippe and has one son, Alexandre. Josephine is a history researcher, a specialist of the 12th century. At the beginning of the book, she just moved in a fancy apartment in Paris, after she earned much money from the success of her first historical novel. The story jumps from one character’s life to another, always describing the events through their eyes.

Josephine is insecure and struggles to discover who she really is. She trips on flat floors and gets her feeling all muddled up. Her mind has the small but beautiful melody of Verlaine’s Arriettes or Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The title of the novel is a reference to her: she likes to muse, walks slowly and has a protective shell.

 The good surprise for me was a Romain Gary’s quote as a foreword. Katherine Pancol must be a fan as several details are linked to him. Philippe reads Clair de Femme, one of Gary’s novels and several first names are connected to Romain Gary : Josephine’s friend’s son is named Gary, Iris & Philippe’s son is named Alexandre, as Romain Gary’s son, a dead baby is named Romain. Now that I think of it, in The Crocodiles’ Yellow Eyes, Iris and Josephine create the same kind of literary mystification as Romain Gary did in 1974. Indeed, when he wrote The Life Before Us, he didn’t want people to know he wrote it, so his cousin, Paul Pavlowitch played the role of the author, under the name of Emile Ajar. He talked on TV shows, gave interviews. The truth was discovered only after Gary died. Josephine would be Romain Gary and Iris Paul Pavlowitch.

 Katherine Pancol is not a great writer but she has a lovely style. Her sentences are like all kinds of water, from sparkling, light and airy with bubbles to tumultuous flood. Its rhythm leads the reader through the story, she uses pretty images. She has an agreeable voice. Her novel is a strange mix of genres: romance for Josephine’s love life, chick-lit for Hortense’s London fashion school, fantasy for voodoo references and crime story as a serial killer is on the loose in Josephine’s neighbourhood. That last part was a weakness in the book; I guessed at once who the killer was and who would get murdered in Josephine’s circle.

 This book brought me what I expected, a nice distraction and I would recommend it for that. I saw in a book store that the third and apparently last volume, Central Park’s Squirrels Are Sad on Mondays, has just been published.

The Beauty and the Beast

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

 I chose to read The Beauty and the Beast because I was curious. I was convinced that Charles Perrault had written that fairytale and I discovered that Mme de Villeneuve (1685-1755) did. I had never heard of her before and according to the foreword, the cartoon and the film are based on the version written later by Mme Leprince de Beaumont. I was intrigued to find out the original story.

The plot is well-known : a rich merchant has six sons and six daughters, the youngest being The Beauty. He loses all his properties and then lives poorly in the country with his children. Once, as he rides to town for business, his daughters ask him to bring them a present. The five elder daughters ask for gowns and The Beauty asks for a rose. On his way back, he gets lost and arrives in a beautiful castle, which seems unoccupied but in which he finds food and shelter. He is about to leave when he sees roses in the garden and cuts one for The Beauty. The Beast shows up and requires that he gives him one of his daughters against the rose or he would die. The girl should come willingly. The merchant rides back home and The Beauty volunteers to go to The Beast’s castle. Surprisingly, she is not killed. She has everything she wants in the castle and meets The Beast every night. He always asks her the same questions, especially if she would sleep with him at night. In her dreams, she meets a beautiful prince, whom she loves and is warned that she should not be guided by appearances. After some time, she agrees to marry The Beast, which turns out to be the prince of her dreams (in the literal sense). That prince was enchanted in a beast by a witch and only the marriage with a loving bride could break the enchantment. The usual version stops at this moment, but here, there are more details about fairies’ world and laws and the circumstances which leaded the prince to be a beast and the Beauty, a princess, to be hidden in a merchant’s house.

The story is full of details about the Beauty’s life in the Beast’s castle. All the ingredients of fairytale are well cooked, such as prince and princess, witches and fairies, bad spells, greedy sisters. The expected themes are also there : love beyond appearances, duty and gratitude above one’s interest, generosity bringing happiness whereas greed brings misfortunes, sexuality, jealousy… As often, one of the character, here, The Beauty is lead from childhood to adulthood through hardship : poverty, going to the Beast’s castle, sleeping with it.

But I was disappointed, I hoped the psychology of the characters would be more constructed and that there would be philosophical developments. Obviously, Mme de Villeneuve is not Voltaire and the aim of the story was only entertainment. So it should be read for entertainment only.

According to the foreword, The Beauty and The Beast is full of references to “precious novels” and preciosity, which were in style in the 17th century. (Mlle de Scudéry’s Clélie is one of them). I missed that, I’m not educated enough in literature to notice it.

In the end, did Jane Eyre win the fight over boring housework ?

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

 On May 13th, I said I was trying a new experiment to transform housework into something tolerable by listening to books. I chose Jane Eyre, a book I had not read. Well, the experience is over, I’ve listened to the entire book, which means 20,50 hours of mp3 files. Don’t misunderstand me, I haven’t done 20,50 hours of cleaning since May 13th, I don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder !

 Apart from one man with a strange accent, the readers were very good, at least, as far as English is concerned. I had a lot of trouble in understanding when Adèle, Jane Eyre’s pupil, spoke French, I could not recognize my mother tongue in those pronunciations. Obviously, it wouldn’t have happened with the paper book. Though, it must have been a challenge for all these volunteers to read a whole chapter without stumbling on words, coughing or whatever else. If there were cuts, I didn’t hear them, except for one or two times. Most of them changed their voice from one character to another whenever there was a dialog, to make them sound more vivid.

Though I liked it and it really distracted my ironing sessions, it could not replace the paper copy of the book.

First, it’s difficult to save quotes, I had to find a pdf-file version to copy the passages I liked or found interesting. You need to remember that in chapter n°___ there was a nice sentence or paragraph and then look for it in the pdf-file. It lacks the fluidity of writing brackets with a pencil, note down the number of the page and going on with the reading.

Second, it’s tricky to stop in the middle of a chapter, which means, that if the chapter is one hour and a half of listening, you have to find that free time or “hand-busy but mind-free” time to go through the chapter in a single time. It’s not so easy.

Third, you have to remember where you stopped in the story, ie, the number of the chapter and what it was about. With a paper book, you just use a bookmark and when you start reading it again after some time, you quickly go through the last pages or so, to bring you back where you left the characters. With audio book, that is more complicated.

Fourth, you don’t have the pleasure to read several times in a row a beautiful passage just because it struck you. I often do that when I read. If I enjoy a sentence, because I find it beautifully written, I read it several times, to keep it in mind, to retain its beauty before I go on.

And of, course, if like me, you don’t understand all the words, then you don’t know their spelling to look for them in the dictionary.

However, despite all these little troubles due to a long habit of reading books instead of listening to them, I will probably do it again, with a shorter book. It tastes a bit like childhood, when parents read stories and you’re only listening.

If you’re interested : www.librivox.org

Categories: About reading

From Proust to Baudelaire

May 20, 2010 6 comments

 I’m re-reading Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. During the first evening Swann spends with Odette at the Verdurin’s, he hears the Vinteuil sonata for piano. This imaginary sonata has a phrase which particularly caught Swann’s attention and gave him a great pleasure. This phrase appears several times in the piece and lingers in his mind after he went home. To describe the longing Swann has for this phrase, Proust compares it to a passer by :

Il était comme un homme dans la vie de qui une passante qu’il a aperçue un moment vient de faire entrer l’image d’une beauté nouvelle qui donne à sa propre sensibilité une valeur plus grande, sans qu’il sache seulement s’il pourra revoir jamais celle qu’il aime déjà et dont il ignore jusqu’au nom”

which means, (my flawed translation, sorry) :

He was like a man in whose life a passer-by he once saw just made enter the image of a new beauty which gives to his own sensibility a greater value, without his even knowing if he will ever have the chance to meet her again, she, he already loves and whose name he ignores”

This sentence reminded me of Baudelaire’s beautiful poem A une passante

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son œil, ciel livide où germe l’ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair… puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m’a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l’éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d’ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j’ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j’eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

I looked for translations of the poem and I found four, none of them fully satisfying. Of course, it is almost impossible to translate and keep the music of the original poem, the 12-foot verses, the rhymes, the alliterations and the twists in the syntax. So I chose the one which I think the closest to the original :

The deafening street around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the hem and flounces of her skirt,

Swift and noble, with statuesque limb.
As for me, I drank, twitching like a crazy man,
From her eye, livid sky where the hurricane is born,
The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills,

A lightning flash… then night! O fleeting beauty,
By whose glance I was suddenly reborn,
Shall I see you again only in eternity?

Somewhere else, way too far from here! Too late! Perhaps never!
For I do not know where you flee, you don’t know where I go,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!

Both the passer-by and the phrase of the sonata are transient. They are among a stream of people or a flow of notes and yet, they are so singular as to catch the eye of the poet or Swann’s attention. Baudelaire’s poem expresses the flash of the moment, as a photograph would capture it, and in the same time, the words, the punctuation, the syntax of the sentences picture the movement of this woman on the street, haughty and swiftly walking. As for the phrase of the sonata, it seems to fly above the other notes, like a butterfly above a field of wild flowers, musing, leaving, coming back. They are a tiny part of a whole scenery and yet will be better remembered than the entire sonata or the street that day. Proust often writes about memory, how our mind builds, stores and gives back memories.

For more on Swann’s Way, see http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/marcel-proust-swanns-way/

Let’s redecorate hell and resurrect pterodactyls

May 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve Always Loved This Place and Swamp Mischief are two short-stories written by Annie Proulx and included in the book Fine Just the Way It Is. There are so funny and so different from the other Wyoming stories that I wanted to single them out. Both stories take place in Hell, literally.

In I’ve Always Loved This Place, after the Devil attended the “Whole World Design & Garden Show”, he decides to redecorate hell because it is not scary enough anymore compared to earth. He thinks about creating an extension but finds it unnecessary in the end because “The earth itself, with no labor on his part, would become Hell Plus. In the meantime he intended to upgrade the current facilities”

So he visits the place with his secretary, Duane Fork. It is made of several circles, each of them corresponding to a special torture. At each stop, he dictates improvements in sufferings. I particularly like the part when he wants to redecorate some corner as a mix of a perpetual Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix cycling races, with EPO mandatory breaks.

For a reason I don’t understand, the story is full of French references. The secretary sprays the room with “Eau de Fumier”, literally “Manure Water” and the Devil swears with loud “Merde!”. (No translation needed, I guess). The secretary also says “Chapeau!” (“Congratulations!”). News from President Sarkozy are asked, as if he were expected in hell soon.

I won’t tell more about the different scenery he imagines, I’ll you discover them by yourself, if you decide to read this short-story.

In Swamp Mischief, the Devil gets bored and decides to have Hell hackers fish some emails from the Upper World to distract him. He randomly chooses to peep over emails from ornithologists and reads one from an ornithologist complaining that his management did not care enough about birds and wishing he could have dangerous pterodactyls to draw more attention. So, out of fun, the Devil decides to re-create pterodactyls. He asks for advice to a BBC science films maker and a dinosaurs expert. The scenery needs to be a big production and the Devil worries because it would “call for advanced engineering and almost certainly a rearrangement of the yearly budget”. Creating a fake pterodactyl was trickier but successful after some efforts. They were sent on earth, in newly settled swamp designed for them. I won’t tell what happened then, not to spoil the surprise, but I really laughed.

 These short-stories are full of funny and inventive details, like this one about the bear scientist who saw the pterodactyls :

He prayed in German and English, for he was a religious man, a member of a group of hallucinated enthusiasts, Penecostal Grizzly Scientists, who met once a month in the back room of a taxidermist’s shop”

The other short-stories are about Wyoming cow-boys, ranches, and so on. I’ll post something on them another time, for they are really well written.

How shall we react to injustice and harassment ?

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

 I promised in a previous post I’d write about Jane Eyre’s important talk with Helen Burns in chapter 6. It happens just after Jane witnessed a scene where Helen is beaten by one of her professors, Miss Scatcherd. She endures the punishment without a cry and she does not resent Miss Scatcherd for it.

Jane cannot understand why Helen does not retaliate against unjust critics or at least feels like doing it. She thinks she should resist as she says :

If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way : they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should–so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.”

But Helen considers that “It is not violence that best overcomes hate–nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”

Here lays, in a few lines of a novel of the 19th century, a very important issue for individuals, minorities and nations. How should we react to injustice or harassment ? Shall we accept it or resist ? For Jane, there is no reason why she should accept injustice without trying to fight back whereas Helen would think a Christian should endure it with forbearance.

Though Helen is right in the way that hate and resentment never bring any good, Jane wonders why she should like someone who’s not good to her and especially asks the question about the resistance. Shall we resist to people who misbehave and fight back to protect ourselves and make them stop their harassment ? How do these people stop misbehaving if no one fights back ? This question has no definitive answer, of course. It depends on the situation and what one means by “fight”. Physical fight is condemnable and I really agree with Gandhi’s famous saying “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”.

But the resistance is something else, it can be visible as well as invisible, collective or individual. It can be violent or non-violent. It goes from one person not willing to bend under oppression to black people boycotting buses in Montgomery in 1955. It’s the debate between Martin Luther King and Malcom X.

Jane still does not understand and justifies her position by telling Helen how Mrs Reed treated her and about the resentment she feels. Helen reacts with the Christian vision of how one must like their enemies, forgive and not waste energy in hate and vengeance. She points out :

She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because you see, she dislikes your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine; but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

And then comes the next issue : when the damage is done, how should the person, the nation react? Shall the victim forgive their torturer? After a civil war or a collective injustice against a minority, what is the best way to go on living together as a social body ? Recent history seems to show at least three different ways :

  • France, after World War II went for hasty punishment of the most visible criminals and silence for the others.
  • Algeria, after Islamic terror decided to vote a law to forgive the criminals, to restore peace and unity of the nation.
  • South Africa chose to face the facts through the “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions”, to let the victim talk and have their country acknowledge the violence committed against them. Nelson Mandela also tried to create a united nation through the rugby team (see Clint Eastwood’s Invictus)

All these methods have pros and cons. As for me, forgiveness without forgetting seems to be the healthiest way to go on, but I guess it’s easy to say when you’re safe in your living-room. No one knows how they would react, were they obliged to choose a side or be the victim of an assault.

I have to admit I didn’t expect to find such a topic in Jane Eyre, which I imagined being a book like Pride & Prejudice. Well, I guess the classics are always full of surprises !

“Beach & Transportation” books

May 16, 2010 5 comments

  I have a special tenderness for what I call “beach & transportation books”. By that, I mean the books you read on the beach, in waiting rooms, airports or trains. Not Richard Powers’s literature but either totally absorbing books or read-despite-distraction books.

The first category are the best and most dangerous ones : the best because they can change a 6 hours trip in a blur and the most dangerous because they can make you miss your plane or train stop by forgetting time and place. When I lived in Paris, how many times did I get up in a hurry, just in time to get out of the metro at my station? It’s a strange feeling, like you were on another planet or day-dreaming and something hits you conscience and makes you get up and jump out of the train. You end up on the platform, a little shocked, the time for your mind to keep up with your actions and thinking “I almost forgot to get out…again”

The second category includes the books you can read and at the same time hear the speaker call for you flight or be aware of the children playing in the sand near you. You still understand the story and miss nothing important but you’re not oblivious to your environment.

It quite hard to find good “beach and transportation” books. Crime and mysteries fit the description, obviously but sometimes the rhythm of the story does not erase the poor style. Some of them are written in “subject+verb+direct object” sentences, it sounds like it was written by a computer rather than by a human-being. Once, I received The Quickie by James Patterson, a thriller written in such a bad style it was painful, even in English, which is not my mother tongue. (It helps to read bad books in a foreign language, you’re not that finicky about the style).

Despite that example, it’s easier to find good crime and mysteries books for beach&transportation episodes than novels. An episode of Elizabeth George’s Linley and Barbara Havers is perfect : you just get caught by the story, and it’s never predictable.

As far as novels are concerned, it’s trickier to find some that combine both a good-enough style and a light subject that only requires a distracted mind, like the “San Francisco’s Chronicles” or some chick lit. I also like to read Philippe Djian’s novels for that. He’s a French author who weights his words (according to his interviews, you can be sure every word written was thought through) and writes stories as entertaining as good movies. I’m afraid no translation is available, except for “37°2 le matin” (“Betty Blue”).

It’s also the moment when you read what everybody reads : so you can exchange recognition looks with other passengers reading the same best-seller as you. It creates an additional bond between two co-travelers, I sometimes wish to ask these people what they think about the book, but I never dare. These books are travel companions, quickly read, quickly forgotten. They are often a mirror of their time, too rooted in the present to reach the universal touch required for books to become immortal. They are like a good movie you watch for entertainment only. They are read in situations where having too good a book would be a waste, for you would miss a lot of it, by lack of attention.

 To conclude, I don’t think these books should be despised as being some kind of under-literature, they don’t pretend to be more than entertaining. If literature were a river, where on one bank would stand the people who never open a book and on the other bank would stand the read-addicts, then “beach & transportation” books could be for some the bridge that will enable them to discover more difficult and more powerful reading.

Categories: About reading

Forgetting the nightmare of housework by listening to books

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve tried something new this morning.

As I’m quite allergic to housework, I thought I could transform this duty in a less painful moment by listening to audio books. So I downloaded Jane Eyre for free in mp3 files (one per chapter) and started listening the book. The readers are quite good and cleaning was much more pleasant. However, as the readers change from one chapter to another and the first minute or so of a new chapter is a bit strange because you need to get used to the new voice.

It’s going to be a good way for me to know English & American classics. As far as the language is concerned, it is read very clearly and 19th century English is easier to understand for a French than contemporary American like in Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons. The 19th century language has no slang words and the fancy words they used are often of latin origin, very closed to French. I had already read some Jane Austen’s work and Wuthering Heights in English and it was, if not easy, at least manageable.

So this little experiment has been a success.

 I reached chapter 6 of Jane Eyre, and I like it. Jane Eyre has just had her first long conversation with Helen Burns and it raises interesting questions about how someone should react to harrassment. But I’ll talk about it later in another post.

Into the Wild

May 8, 2010 Leave a comment

 I both read the book « Into the Wild» written by Jon Krakauer and saw the movie. I’m afraid to say I don’t really feel any admiration towards Christopher McCandless. Unlike most films shot after a book, “Into the Wild” is close to the book story and doesn’t edit much.

 It is the true story of Christopher McCandless, who graduated from college and donated all his money to charity to travel to the West like a hobo on the road. The book tells about his journey, the people he met, the people he stayed with and tries to describe his personality to explain his choice and his way of thinking.

He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp and tried to reinvent himself through his going to the West. In doing this, he is right into the tradition of the USA : a country where people came to have a new life. A country where people who already had a life on the East Coast could start a new life by settling in the West. A country where the myth says one can always have a fresh start somewhere else and succeed.

However, he just fancied the first part of the myth, the fresh start part, for he was not seeking for a successful life the way Americans usually picture it : money, big cars, big house. He wanted to live like a hermit, to fulfill his basic needs, and no more.

 He wanted to live into the wilderness, not like a Jim Harrison character but like a Jack London one. He was full of Thoreau. He wanted to experience the adventure of the wilderness the way the pioneers of the 19th century had. That’s why he ventured into the Alaska wilderness without a map, and without sufficient an equipment. He died there, of food poisoning : he ate the wrong wild potato.

 In fact, he stayed in the wood a longer time that he really wished to. Indeed, he tried to go back to civilization but he found out that the stream he had crossed by foot on the early spring was a huge torrent in the summer. A river that could not be crossed by foot. He thus returned to his previous camp base and that proved fatal.

So apparently, he died of food poisoning and bad luck. But for me, he died out of stubbornness and self-confidence. Had he be humble enough to take a map with him, he would have found the bridge he needed to cross the river, for it was not very far from his camp and he would have come home safely.

 That lack of common precaution irritates me a lot. He was not stupid. He was not trying to kill himself. He was over-confident and stupidly romantic. He would die like a character of a romantic novel of the 19th century.

 This is not the only thing that displeases me in his story. I understand that he had issues with his parents. His childhood had been quite miserable because their marriage was a disaster. Later, he discovered that his father had had another wife and family and he was really upset and disturbed by the lie. So I can understand why he left everything, not telling them where he was, wanting to take a fresh start.

 But he had a sister, Carine, whom he was very close. How could he leave her without ever calling her ? How could he wander two years without showing her he was alive and happy ? This is something I cannot forgive him. I cannot truly sympathize with his early painful death because I cannot forgive him that selfishness.

Whatever the quest for purity he had, his wanting to live like Thoreau and everything, nothing can justify that one hurts their family by disappearing without ever giving any hint that they were alive.

 I’m sorry for all the admirers of Christopher McCandless’ courage and choice. I respect his quest but not the way he did it, because he could not not know he would hurt his family. He should not have indulge himself into hurting his sister.

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