5 out of 5 Stars/Grade A
My father had an expression for a thing that turned out bad. He’d say it had gone west. But going west always sounded pretty good to me. After all, westwards is the path of the sun. And through as much history as I know of, people have moved west to settle and find freedom. But our world had gone north, truly gone north, and just how far north I was beginning to learn.
Out on the frontier of a failed state, Makepeace—sheriff and perhaps last citizen—patrols a city’s ruins, salvaging books but keeping the guns in good repair.
Into this cold land comes shocking evidence that life might be flourishing elsewhere: a refugee emerges from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to reconnect with human society and take to the road, armed with rough humor and an unlikely ration of optimism.
What Makepeace finds is a world unraveling: stockaded villages enforcing an uncertain justice and hidden work camps laboring to harness the little-understood technologies of a vanished civilization. But Makepeace’s journey—rife with danger—also leads to an unexpected redemption.
Far North takes the reader on a quest through an unforgettable arctic landscape, from humanity’s origins to its possible end. Haunting, spare, yet stubbornly hopeful, the novel is suffused with an ecstatic awareness of the world’s fragility and beauty, and its ability to recover from our worst trespasses.
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.
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.
Marcel 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.
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