Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (a review)

Lets take a break from motorcycle-related stuff and visit yet another literary piece worthy of rediscovery.

Since most of my reviews deal with serious fiction, the following review may come as a surprise to some. Nevertheless, the old saying 'Never judge a book by its cover' (taken literary in this case) nails it right on. There are some wonderful treasures hidden in children's literature, some very dark, fascinating treasures, which we adults often fail to discover. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one of those treasures; an exceptionally well-written book, with a timeless, at times dark and depressing, story of the human spirit. Never mind the fact that the main protagonist, a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, is not a human. And while I would not venture as far as comparing the author's intentions to those of surrealists, her use of a non-living object (a doll) to portray human consciousness in its full depth, creates a stark contrast between what we come to expect and what we come to experience.


Edward Tulane is a china rabbit...

The bulk of my reviews deal with serious fiction and not with children's literature. Therefore, you may ask yourself, "What does a china rabbit have to do with literary fiction?" Well, to answer that question honestly, I must say: "Nothing...nothing at all."

There is no question that a children's book about a china rabbit is an unlikely contestant to end up in my `favorite books' pile. After all, this book is not about a character contemplating the murderous attitude of the world. Nevertheless, the book is about a character - a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. Therefore, we should be asking ourselves whether Edward merits closer attention, and whether Edward's story deserves to be considered a work of literary fiction, and I must answer with an: "Absolutely!"

A couple of years ago, a dear friend introduced me to Kate DiCamillo's writing. As a reader who prefers serious fiction, I was a bit skeptical at first. Nonetheless, the first book lead to another, then another, and one more yet. Among these, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is, by far, my favorite. In my opinion, although designed for the young reader, this book has all the attributes of a work of serious fiction, and can be enjoyed at any age.

Edward Tulane, as mentioned previously, is a china rabbit. He is not just any china rabbit, but the most exclusive, finely handcrafted rabbit. Frankly, Edward is the best rabbit money can buy. He lives in a wealthy household with a girl who loves him and cares for him, he owns the finest silk suits, and even wears a gold pocket watch. Unfortunately, Edward is fully aware of his superficial qualities - too aware to care about anything but himself; and although he is a doll, Edward has a soul. A clouded, dark soul empty of love for anything but himself.

In majority of the books I love, a character grows...undergoes a certain metamorphosis. For Edward, the transformation begins with a crude awakening: Thrown overboard, Edward ends up on the bottom of the sea, in a place where the starlight does not reach. It is there that, for the first time in his existence, Edward begins to feel. And, once the wheels of consciousness start turning, they cannot be stopped no matter how hard he tries.

Tormented by self-pity and fear, Edward is eventually rescued by an old fisherman who brings him home. Edward, initially full of arrogance, grows to recognize a new feeling inside of him - love. Yet, he is not destined to experience it fully, as he is soon torn away from the world he is becoming familiar with. And this is where his story really begins - not in the house where he was loved, not at the bottom of the sea, not even with the fisherman's family - but at the moment he realizes what love is, and the pain that comes with loving. And, this is where I leave the particulars of the story, so as not to spoil it for any potential readers.

Edward's journey, nonetheless, continues for many years. With it, and each turn his life takes, Edward's consciousness comes alive, fed by multitude of encounters and experiences. The love he initially felt for the fisherman does not disappear, but becomes the first building block in the foundation of his understanding of what loving someone really entails. Edward experiences joy and losses, growing bitter at times when he wishes to no longer feel anything, yet, having no control over his life, he must continue on wherever chance takes him. When he witnesses death, he wishes to no longer live; however, this serious story could not be complete without a sort of redemption at the end, but not before he goes through hell, for one must often lose everything to find himself.

DiCamillo's writing is simple and precise (after all, the target audience for this book is younger), but the way she delves into the depth of consciousness more than makes up for it. She doesn't waste time with fancy words one needs a dictionary to understand - she delivers a superb drama without them. She is very comfortable in the world that exists just under our skins, an often-dark world of human emotions where love and hate coexists side-by-side, separated by a very thin line.

One thing is for certain: no matter how many times I read this book, it never fails to stir things up inside of me; and that is, in my opinion, a mark of an exceptional literature.

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