inReview: Nikkei Books
David Suzuki is by training a biologist—a scientist—which to some people conjures up the image of a white-coated rationalist, devoid of emotion and bent on pure experiment. But no human being is really like that, not even economists. Neurologists tell us that purely rational thinking is an impossibility for us: instead we think-feel; we feel-think. David Suzuki came to biology the way so many have: through the emotions, a love of the natural world—the world he then set out to explore using his intelligence. What he did with the love and the intelligence is a thing the human race has been doing to its advantage ever since the Pleistocene: he told stories about what he loved and what he discovered, stories that confer a benefit on those who hear them if only they will listen with care.
from the Forward by Margaret Atwood
David Suzuki The Legacy
In his latest book, David Suzuki points out that “the loss of an insect group such as ants would result in a catastrophic collapse of terrestrial ecosystems.” By the same token, if the human species were to go extinct overnight, “biodiversity would rebound around the planet.” It is a sobering thought, and oddly comforting despite it’s terrible implications. It sets the tone for the book, which at once readable and profound.
The Legacy, an elder’s vision for our sustainable future is based on a lecture that Suzuki gave a year ago, in December 2009, at the University of British Columbia, where he had been a professor for 39 years. That same lecture forms the core of a new film Force of Nature, directed by Sturla Gunnarson.
A slim and unimposing volume, the book carries a powerful message within its covers, written by a man who is, by his own admission, in the last part of his life—what he calls “the Death Zone.” As such, there is an air of contemplation about the book, tinged with a hint of melancholy. As he says in the introduction he has previously recorded his thoughts and ideas extensively on numerous subjects in essays, articles and books. He has also covered his life story in two books: Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life (written when he was fifty) and David Suzuki: The Autobiography (written when he was 70). With this book, though, he delves deeper into metaphysical and spiritual issues, taking the opportunity to reflect upon what he has learned over a lifetime lived immersed in the world of science and in the public eye.
Suzuki was born in Vancouver in 1936 and spent some of his formative years living with his parents in the New Denver internment camp, where he developed his fascination with the natural world. This fascination was reinforced in rural Ontario, where the family moved after the war. In the intervening years, Suzuki has witnessed “an explosion of scientific knowledge as well as a huge change in our relationship with the planet—a tripling of the world’s population, a greatly increased ecological footprint through the global economy, and a huge growth in technological capacity.”
These changes, together with our unsustainable lifestyle, have had a terrible impact on the various ecosystems of earth and threaten our very survival. It’s a dire indictment indeed, yet it is said with compassion and hope—the very thing that keeps Suzuki committed to his quest .
At the heart of The Legacy is humankind’s relationship with the planet we call home. It is a complex relationship informed by our capacity to imagine and to envision, using our brains first for survival in a world of bigger stronger animals and then to transcend survival to become the dominant species on earth. We are, Suzuki says, tearing at the very web of life that sustain us—the highest predator on the food chain—and all living creatures. Lest we take being the highest up on the food chain as a sign of superiority, he also points out that it is those creatures at the top—including whales, tigers and grizzlies—who are the most vulnerable to changes in the ecosystem and the least able to adapt.
It is Suzuki’s contention throughout the book that we must learn to act as a single species “to deal with global problems that transcend borders and acknowledge the rules and limits that nature defines.”
Towards the end of the book, Suzuki writes about his own father, Carr Suzuki, who he calls his “great hero and mentor.” The two men lived together during the last month of his father’s life, as he was dying of cancer, and Suzuki remembers the month as a wonderful time, when father and son were able to connect, even as their time together was drawing to a close. It is his hope, he says, that he can approach his own death with the dignity and acceptance that his own father did. Beyond that, is his hope that the human race, what he calls “the planet’s most recent iteration of life’s forms,” can find a way to live in balance with the elements and “to create a future rich in the joy, happiness, and meaning that are our real wealth.”
Half World by Hiromi Goto
She leapt onto the path, her foot landing on the back of a flying crow. The smooth softness of sleek feathers. The oily-slipperiness beneath her shoes. The flying bird sagged beneath her weight, and just as it began to veer away Melanie leapt off, stepping down as the next crow flew in to take its place in the path. On and on, Melanie leapt. She could not run faster than the birds’ flight. The bridge existed only beneath and behind her.
excerpt from Half World
As a longtime Vancouver-area resident, the first thing that struck me on opening Hiromi Goto’s Half World was the familiarity of the setting. When we meet the heroine, fourteen-year-old Melanie Tamaki, she is running through the streets of Vancouver’s east side, being chased and tormented by girls from her school. Within a few pages, Macleod’s Books, Burrard Inlet, Fujiya and Adanac Street work their way into the story. It’s a sense of familiarity that doesn’t last long, though, as we are soon thrust , along with Melanie, into a world that is most definitely not our own.
If Platform 93/4 in the Harry Potter books leads to a strange and wonderful world of magic, Door Number Four in the tunnel of the Cassiar Connector—where she is instructed to go by a disembodied voice coming through a dead telephone—leads to a place equally strange, but much more disorienting and disturbing. Half World is a Boshean world of strange landscapes and even stranger inhabitants. Severed from the other two Realms, Half Worlders are locked into a perpetually repeating nightmare in which they relive their worst sins and traumas. Given that none of us manage to lead an entirely blameless life, this is rather terrifying prospect indeed.
Melanie is drawn to Half World in search of her mother Fumiko, a destitute single mother who has disappeared. Armed only with a jade rat, thrust upon her by the kindly but mysterious Ms. Wei, she embarks on her quest with trepidation but a grim resolve. Before long Melanie is immersed in an adventure that make Alice’s sojourn in Wonderland look like a walk in the park. She soon meets the aptly-named Mr. Glueskin, surely one of the most original and odious villains to ever grace the pages of a fantasy novel. If the book is ever adapted for screen, Jim Carey would be a natural to play him.
Melanie learns that she herself was conceived in Half World but that her mother managed to escape back to the Realm of the Flesh, with the proviso that mother and child both return after fourteen years. She also learns of a prophecy that tells that only a child born of the lifeless Half World can reunite the three worlds of Flesh, Spirit, and the Half World that have been split asunder. She may not get the best grades in school, but it doesn’t take her long to put two and two together and realize that her quest goes beyond finding her mother. If she doesn’t feel particularly heroic, well that’s just too bad; the fate of three worlds is on her shoulders.
Over-weight, insecure and not especially attractive, Melanie is not your typical heroine, but then Half World is not your average fantasy novel. Blending the metaphysical and the spiritual with the mundane, Goto gives us a three-dimensional world that, while not always pleasant (as one reviewer said, don’t read it at lunch), is gripping and thought-provoking. It is marketed as a young adult novel (13+), but that shouldn’t frighten parents (or any other adults for that matter) away. Well worth reading.
Half Life has received the 2010 Sunburst Award and has been longlisted for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Long, long, long ago, before mortals began to inscribe mortal religions onto stone tablets and parchment, there was a time of the Three Realms: the Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit and Half World.
For aeons it was a time of wholeness and balance; Life, After Life and Half Life were as natural as awake, asleep and dreaming. All living things died only to awaken in the dream land of Half World. Mortals awoke to the moment of the greatest trauma they had experienced during their time in the Realm of Flesh. In Half World they relived Half Lives, until they had worked through their burdens of mortal ills, through trial and tribulation. Wrongdoings, doubts, fears, terror, pain, hatred, suffering, all the ills of mortality had to be integrated and resolved before they could rise from mortal fetters into light and Spirit. Once in the Realm of Spirit, all physical cares disappeared. Spirits existed freely, unbounded to mortality and suffering, untroubled by flesh, in a state pure and holy. Until eventually their light began to grow dim, and they were called back into flesh once more, for without connections to Life, Spirit too shall pass away.
Thus, the cycles were in balance.
There is no account left of what led to the severing of the Realms. No one knows if it was the work of Spirits who grew aloof and righteous, if it was a trapped Half Worlder maddened into perpetual pain with no hope left of light. Perhaps it was a mortal who dreamt of becoming a Spirit without ever leaving flesh. But the Three Realms that were once balanced and entwined were ripped asunder and locked into isolation . . .
from the Prologue