Friday, 10 April 2009

Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer

Read: April 2008

“Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ‘cause “the west is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilisation he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.”
Alexander Supertramp. May 1992.

In 1990, aged 22 and having graduated college with a high GPA, Cristopher McCandless left home never to return. He donated nearly $25,000 in savings to Oxfam, abandoned his car and many possessions in the desert, discarded his name in favour of the moniker Alexander Supertramp, and burnt the last of his money. Hitchhiking, canoeing and riding the rails, McCandless spent the next two years travelling across the empty parts of America, in search of himself and his ideals, and the unencumbered spirit of nature. He lived off rice and whatever he could kill or forage, made friends along the way (all of whom were touched by his personality and singularity of vision, his youthful joie de vie and his freedom of personality), and invented a new life for himself.

And then in April 1992 he set off on what would be the greatest adventure of his life. Following in the footprints of Jack London he walked “into the wild” of Alaska and spent four months living alone in the wilderness, alone save for the nature all around him in which he found a kindred spirit. And for most of the time he lived successfully in an abandoned Fairbanks City bus, reading voraciously, communing with nature, and quietening the nomad in him. But, due to misfortune and miscalculations, sometime in the middle of August 1992, he starved to death. His body was discovered a month later, wasted away to almost nothing, a victim of the terrible unforgiving of the wilderness.

Into the Wild
is absolutely enthralling. Fantastically written with a depth of understanding and language derived in the stark, inhospitable beauty of nature, this is a book to fall in love with. The grand quotes scattered through the books – from the likes of Tolstoy, David Thoreau, Boris Pasternak, Jack London – make one yearn for the liberation of the wild, the freedom of life, the fantastic cravings of youthful discovery. For Alaska and its rugged landscape where dreamers and misfits flea, thinking that the “unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives.” Alaska, where the land “sprawls across the flats like a rumpled blanket on an unmade bed.”

Into the Wild
is a biography of Chris McCandless and his journey, a travel writing exploration of the powerful shadow nature casts on our psyche, and a literary history of the wild. Jon Krakauer’s research has been extensive, he talks to all those who Chris met on the way and gradually builds a picture of the inspiring young man McCandless was, and the nature of his unusual journey. Using personal experiences and the stories of others young men similarly afflicted with the yearning for nature, Krakauer offers a first rate investigation into the life and death of a truly inspiring man.

Much has been made about Chris’s culpability for his death, whether it was poetic and admirable, or naïve and disrespectful of nature. But who cares. Perhaps it was a little of both. This is not a book about death, it is a book about the remarkable life of a man who sought to live life to the full, to immerse himself in life in its most inimitable, to find his own life in the wilderness of nature, to uncover the truth of it all. I read it in one day, it is that good. And now I think I am off to Alaska, there is a beast inside me too, and it wishes to howl in the forensic emptiness of nature, to escape modern life and live in peace, just a pile of books and miles of air all around to sustain me.

8 out of 10

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