Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

Booker Shortlist -2014
One of the most beautiful stories I have recently read. An issue which has plagued our 'scientific' society for decades has been dealt with so compassionately, with humour and such understanding, that it would be a shame if it didn't win the Booker this year. 
The heroine Rosemary, is a college student who has to face up to her childhood reality that her sister Fern, was a non human primate. Rose was a month old and Fern a three month old orphan when Rose's parents started the 'experiment'. The journey that the story traces is primarily from the perspective of Rose and the devastating effect Fern's departure had on the family and how Lowell, Rose's brother suffered as he blamed himself for being unable to protect Fern, his dear sister. 
The author also touches upon the various experiments conducted on dogs, rabbits, monkeys and rats in the name of understanding the 'human' condition and shows how bestial are our experiments. One can only set up a tortured lament empathizing with all those 'animals' that we presumably study in the name of 'science'. 
As Coetzee said, in Elizabeth Costello, even the knowledge of evil, somehow fundamentally alters us. And the same thought is reflected in this book, "The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff". But the qualities which make us human include the good and the evil. Like Rosemary says, of her brothers' fight to rescue his sister Fern, “Lowell’s life has been the direct result of his very best qualities, of our very best qualities – empathy, compassion, loyalty, and love.” 
A book I would read and re-read, just to remind myself of my 'human-ness'.

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