Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review: The Life And Adventures of Robinson Crusoe


I like to mix up my reading and one genre that I managed to overlook during my development was the classics. Yet as I've matured ("Aged," my wife would correct me), I've added them to my repertoire. 

'The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe' is the original deserted island story. Taking place in the mid 1600s, our protagonist, of English descent, moves to South America to farm and live a life of adventure, against his father's council. His entrepreneurial spirit yields excellent results and he becomes rather wealthy. However, rather than sit still, he decides to invest in the slave trade and sets sail for Africa. Getting caught in a storm, he barely survives shipwreck while his entire crew perishes. 

The tale is a story of survival and a great study of anthropology, as we look into a man's solitary life on a deserted island for over twenty- six years. Of interest is when Crusoe is walking on his island and discovers a footprint. He panics and runs back to his 'castle' and hides out for three days. 

The tome is written in such a different culture and time that it fascinates the reader, as Crusoe never flagellates himself for investing in slavery, yet with our perspective of the industry in the present, we would easily default to that mindset. Earlier in his life, Crusoe traveled by ship as well and was taken slave himself, a foreshadowing of his failure in seafaring ways. Additionally, you would think he would be repulsed at the idea of trafficking in human life. 

The story also depicts Crusoe's spiritual journey, as he manages to retrieve a Bible from the shipwreck. Upon his confession of faith, his perspective improves: “With these reflections I worked my mind up, not only to a resignation to the will of God in the present disposition of my circumstances, but even to a sincere thankfulness for my condition; and that I, who was yet a living man, ought not to complain, seeing I had not the due punishment of my sins; that I enjoyed so many mercies which I had no reason to have expected in that place; that I ought never more to repine at my condition, but to rejoice, and to give daily thanks for that daily bread, which nothing but a crowd of wonders could have brought...”

Reading classic works can be a struggle, as contrary to current work, they can be pedantic and slow. Yet while the book moves slowly (he can spend three pages describing how he protects and cares for his gunpowder), and the story itself depicts a deliberate and quiet life, the reading captures and holds one's interest. Contrary to what current writing teachers preach, the writer consistently tells rather than shows too, apparently not an issue in the seventeenth century. 

A captivating book, the story is similar to the analogy of watching a train wreck; one cannot not look at it. While a methodical train wreck, it nevertheless fascinates the reader.  
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