Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

A biologist friend recommended this book a number of years ago. She raved about it as one of her favorite sci fi books of all times. I had never heard of it, or of John Wyndham. I am not some huge authority on science fiction but my husband does have a healthy appreciation for classic sci fi works; he brings home new finds semi-regularly and hands them to me to read. So a brand-new author intrigued me.

I finally bought a copy of The Chrysalids with my Christmas money and devoured it in 48 hours (hey, that's quick when you consider I'm also parenting and working). It's every bit as good as my friend promised. And it has that exceedingly rare quality - it has aged well. Too often sci fi resembles the time in which it was written. Although Wyndham's book does reflect the post-World War II crises that dictate his storyline it is equally relevant and in no way dated today. The story revolves around a boy who lives in a small religiously and genetically pure community in Labrador (northern Canada/Greenland?). As he begins to question his father's doctrine he finds problems with the social and cultural norms he has assumed from childhood.

Having just taught the bombing of Hiroshima to my college students a week earlier I enjoyed engaging in Wyndham's dystopic, post-apocalyptic world. He is subtle in his treatment of nuclear fallout. He never names it but his descriptions are vivid and remain cogent 50 years later.

I also found Wyndham's treatment of religious orthodoxy fascinating. In today's world in which religion has begun to play a larger social role it was interesting to see how he envisioned religion, biology, and nuclear war to have interwoven.

In the tradition of 1984, Brave New World, and The Giver, Wyndham writes a story that speaks to a young audience and can be read by a young adult reader. But it is no less powerful to an adult who sees intriguing nuances in personal interplay.

I have since learned that Wyndham is well-known in Britain (and Canada) but has only been recently re-introduced to the American audience. After finishing The Chrysalids I would happily read his other famous novel, The Day of the Triffids. I passed this on to my husband and am eagerly waiting his perceptions so we can discuss certain character points in detail.

If you like The Chrysalids I strongly recommend:

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