Book Review: Adventure Stories of Great Writers
By Mitali Chakravarty
Title: Adventure Stories of Great Writers
Author: Dr Usha Bande
Adventures Stories of Great Writers is a collection of episodes from the lives of well-known writers across the world through different periods in history. These vignettes from the biographies focus on adventures faced by twenty such persons transcending borders and nations. The different stories touch upon the lives of great writers like Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Louis Stevenson, Knud Holmboe, Washinton Irving, Herman Melville and T.E. Lawrence ranging from a variety of countries including Denmark, India, America, England, to name a few. The stories are set on the rough seas around the world, including the Arctic Ocean, where Arthur Conan Doyle was thrown off his ship among frozen chunks of ice in the cold waters; in the deserts of Arabia and Africa where, T.E. Lawrence fought for the Arabs and which Knud Holmboe made into his own home; in India, where John Masters battles a deadly man hunting tiger; in apartheid ridden South Africa, where Gandhi learns never to give in to injustice… Transcending borders, religions and creed, the common thing that strings these stories together is perhaps best expressed by a quote from Rabindranath Tagore at the start of an episode from Gandhiji’s life:
“Power said to the world, ‘you are mine’.
The world kept it prisoner on her throne.
Love said to the world, ‘I am thine’.
The world gave it the freedom of her home.”
Most of the episodes reflect compassion, kindness and love for mankind. Some depict indomitable spirit, courage and boldness while some focus on the spirit of adventure and innovative solutions to get out of situations that seem impossible. Conviction in one’s beliefs, the energy and the determination to push through to achieve one’s objective and to make changes that were felt to be necessary are also highlighted by these vignettes. All these episodes go to show what has been summed up by a quotation from Swami Vivekananda at the start of a chapter on Sir Winston Churchill:
“The history of the world is the history of
a few men who had faith in themselves.”
In this pantheon of men, Dr Usha Bande includes only one woman – Gertrude Bell. This is disappointing as there have been many remarkable women writers (Sarojini Naidu, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot or Helen Keller, to name a few) across the world who wrote more books and were better known than Gertrude Bell.
I wonder why the author chooses a number of statesmen in the canon of ‘Great Writers’. George Washington and Gandhi are better known as founding fathers of two great nations than writers. Gertrude Bell was better known as an archaeologist, a political administrator and a major figure in establishing modern Iraq with the same passion for the Arab world as T. E. Lawrence (of the Lawrence of Arabia fame).
Another episode that drew my attention was the one about Jack London, who spent half his life as a drunken tramp and the rest as a literary man. Dr. Bande has focused more on his life as an irresponsible, inebriated vagabond than on the transition that he underwent to become a great writer. This is at odds with her intent in the book — in the preface, she says, “These adventure stories were collected and written for teenagers”. I would want my teens to read more about the transition.
Though most of these stories are interesting and inspiring, they could have been retold in a smoother and simpler narrative, neither pedantic nor gushing.
In her preface Dr Bande states that she wanted to take her readers around the world on an “armchair”; this the book has done very well. She has also successfully dispelled the myth of writers as being only “cerebral” and has given us a glimpse of a world where anyone is free to fly anywhere…; there are no limits to dreams and any difficulty can be overcome with determination, inventiveness, calmness and presence of mind.
I would recommend this book across all ages because it gives us a glimpse into the spirit of persons who instilled positive changes in this world. It brings to light values that are important to instill in our youngsters.
Mitali Chakravarty writes essays, short stories, poetry and reviews. Her bylines have appeared in The ‘Times of India’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘Statesman’ and ‘Hindustan Times’. She blogs at 432m.wordpress.com