Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Giver by Lois Lowry


This is one haunting tale that I had to review. One of my student lent it to me last Saturday and I neglected to read it until the very day before I met her again. But it was such a breeze to read that I finished it in less than a day, reading most of it on the commute.

It is BRILLIANT.

The beginning was rather boring and I had to force myself to press on because I am the type that usually finishes (almost) every book she starts on. And I'm glad I did. Because it just keeps getting better.

This is the dystopian novel before The Hunger Games or the Divergent trilogies got popular. Slightly less disturbing than Brave New World, it is just as good. Set somewhere in the future (we are not told when), it is a story about a bunch of people living in a well regulated and safe community which at first glance seems rather like the life we are living, except that everyone's a lot more polite.

Fast forward to the interesting section of the book where twelve-year-olds attend a Choosing Ceremony where they are assigned their future vocations. Protagonist Jonas isn't chosen which causes him quite a bit of disquiet until they announced that he hasn't been assigned but chosen to be the new Receiver for the community.

He goes through a bout of intense training from the previous Receiver (who is now called The Giver) and that's when he realised that his whole life is a lie. Which is putting it rather mildly. Turns out that these people can't see colours, don't have many feelings, and have no memories of the past. The Receiver is in charge of bearing all these burdens for the community and suffers under the weight of it.

Both Jonas and the Giver hatch a plan to restore memory to their community and you can read to find out what happened eventually.

As I was reading this book, and especially after I finished it, I felt like it was an allegory for the country that I'm living in. For the formative years of our lives, we are put through the education system that creates a lot of Sameness in most of us. We value the things that are of little importance. We start to take pride in rituals created by mere humans. And most frightening of all, we end up not being able to see the more important things in life or find ourselves numb to many things that should evoke strong emotion in us. 

Instead of the colours and wonders of this awesome planet, we are reduced to a rat race that is dominated by grades and good results. Instead of learning empathy for the weak and expressing love for our friends and family we fixate our eyes on those who are "less-than" and mercilessly criticise those who have transgressed the rules of our society. Instead of remembering the glorious history that is our past, we worry about the competitiveness and productivity of our country and peg ourselves against the best of the world.

There can be so much more to education that what it currently is. And I hope I can be part of the solution instead of a mere armchair critic.

All this from reading a book.

Books are powerful y'all.

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