Fruits Of The Earth
French philosopher and writer Andre Gide.
This is not a book review -as the response to
my first book review here was negligible, so
I am avodiing it.
However this is all about how the book hit me hard
when I was a struggling university student, with a
bleak future staring me in the face like a wolf with
a week old hunger. Engineers were during those days,
jobless by the millions, and it is a telling sign
that badminton and tennis took up more of my time
then, rather than completing mechanical drafting or
applied maths -two of my pet peeves.
The first chapter begins dramatically, in an unforgettable
manner with a couplet from the great Persian poet Hafiz
" My idle happiness that slept so long
Is now at length awaking "
One can hardly believe that Gide wrote this book in 1897, for I am
a contemporary literature freak -having had no exposure to Shakespeare
not Milton nor Blake due to a science background that looks askance
at classical literature... and the fact that he wrote it whilst he
was staring at death without blinking. He had tubercolisis, completely
without a cure then.
"I will teach you fervour" Gide says addressing the faceless nameless
reader and goes on to sing the praises of body electric like Walt
Whitman did, or even Carl Sandburg did in their own inimitable styles
much later. One can get high on plain water, Gide mentioned, in this
wonderful dialogue between Nathaniel the student and Menacles, a sort
of caricature of good ole Oscar Wilde -one of my perennial favourites,
due to his irrepressible humour and his razor sharp pithy witticisms.
Menacles, goes on narrating his own fantastic story, and there is this
magic realism interwoven in a book predating the later masters like
Gabriel Garcia Marques -antoher favourite of mine- because of this
fable like quality to the tale. Fundamentally, in the hoary tradition
of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarthustra and even Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet
this book also treads the familiar path -though a comparison between
these three would be entirely unfair.
To the serious reader then, Menacles is nothing but Gide himself, as
he used to be before the dreaded disease made him a wraith who allows
the philosopher-writer to stop exalting the ego and embrace physically
and spiritually, pure joy. Easier said than done, I thought then, as I
think now : though there are decades separating the two events.
This then is an amazing book that could leave the reader badly smitten.