Reading this dystopian book, reminded me of the lyric of a popular song, Imagine:
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
In the song which was released in 1988, John Lennon was imagining a world entirely different from ours. He was presupposing that if we eliminate all painful and restrained elements from life, the world would be a better place to live in. In The Giver, Lois Lowry challenged its modern young readers to question themselves whether a dystopian world as John Lennon has—and perhaps many people have too—imagined would make us happier. So, she created the “Community” where our heroes live.
Community is set by eliminating worldly struggles and uncomfortable things in daily life. Women are exempt from painful laboring by giving the task to some appointed women; and a family can receive a new child from Community (they can ask for exchange if they are not satisfied with the current child!). Elderly are separated from the family—obviously to eliminate the inconveniences of treating them—and when they are too old, the Community will ‘release’ them. They are given medicines to eliminate pains; and a committee will monitor their daily activities to decide what profession are the best for them. And there are so many regulations for all their routines; every aspect of their lives are guarded and controlled, so that all they have to do is just living it comfortably, and finally leaving it quietly. To achieve this, the Community erases their memory of the past, and lets only one person to bear all the memories—including the pains—so that he can act as advisor. This person is called The Giver.
When Jonas becomes 12 he realizes that HE is chosen for the next Giver. For about a year he takes ‘training’ from the present Giver. It means that the Giver little by little transfers his memory to his successor. From the flashes of the memory, we came to understand that our world has once been torn by a terrible war. Jonas must get through pains and sufferings; something he never gets in the Community. However, he also gets beautiful things he has never felt before: warm love of family, beauty of colors, etc. In the end Jonas believes that, notwithstanding the pain and suffering, the former world is worth to live in, compared to the Community. This realization, plus the fact he has revealed about the ‘release’ he often heard of, sets his mind to set up a dangerous plan with the Giver.
People have been praising this book; I have heard a lot of positive reviews of it, and that’s why I decided to read a book from two genres—which usually does not meet my taste—dystopian and young adult. In the end, I liked this book, because it teaches us to accept life as a whole. Life has never been a series of happiness and comforts; it contains struggles and pains too. Without sorrows, we would never know the meaning of happiness; before feeling hungry, you would never realize the value of food. It is after the pain of laboring and raising child, after the struggle in living with your spouse, can you feel the warmth of love and family. Life—however wretched it is—is always worth living.
It is good of Lowry to promote philosophy of life to young adults; a reminder to respect life, and to appreciate the beauty of it. It’s pity that the last part ended too abruptly. I wished Lowry would have dug deeper than that. But considering this book as a YA, it is acceptable.
I can only grant four stars; it’s really good, but it’s not quite shaking my emotion (I think I have read too much Zola’s lately!).
I read Indonesian translation from Gramedia Pustaka Utama
(I did not put the original cover of the copy I read, as I was annoyed by its childish image—sorry, I just can’t bear it…)