Aldous Huxley’s “Island”, published in 1962, is set in the fictional island of “Pala” where science and Buddhism coexist to establish a utopian society. Pala follows protagonist Will Farnaby who was sent on a mission to persuade the Rani (the leader of Pala) to give the rights to Pala’s untapped oil reserves. Farnaby’s mission immediately takes a detour as he sides with the Palanese people in their fight to protect their safe haven against the westernized world. When I bought the book I was unsure what the content behind the front cover would withhold. To my surprise, Huxley’s unconventional story enlightened me just as much as the Palanese people enlightened the westernized Will Farnaby.Island is a novel for people of all ages and these are my five reasons why you should read it.
P.S. there are 95 more reasons but quality over quantity.
1) Its story, despite being published at the conclusion of WWII has social, political, and economic relevance today.
Pala resides somewhere off the coasts of East Asia, untouched, uninfluenced, and unwesternized. The fictitious nations of the world fight over oil reserves across the globe. It so happens that the Buddhist island of Pala has a massive reserve where most of its oil has yet to be extracted. What I found the most interesting, and most eerie, is how the hunger driven – oil driven- fictional leaders of Island resemble our modern leaders in their conquest of extracting oil. How Huxley perfectly illustrates how the history of our world has primarily played out. Where a peaceful nation exists, usually consisting of plenty of natural resources, up until the “big dogs” arrive at their shores with the intent to search, destroy, kill, conquer, and extract. Although it is harsh, it’s evidently true; the conquistadors are a perfect example. Island perfectly demonstrates how disturbingly repulsive the human being can be when they desire, when they lust, when they seek to obtain. Pala is this peaceful untouched nation, and when the big dogs arrive at their shores, I finally understood how terrifying it must have been for the Native Americans of South America, the peaceful African civilizations and for those living in the Middle-East today to see the “big dogs” knock at their doorstep.
2) Difference in culture
Pala was not always a society of Buddhism and science. In fact the unique practices and cultures of Pala were established by a western practitioner of science and the island’s Rani (again leader of Pala) in the mid-19th century. I loved how these two individuals did not find their different cultural backgrounds a barrier but an advantage. The two of them together were able to create a society of peace, tranquility and enlightenment through combing two ideologies which have never been the best of friends, religion and science. Huxley demonstrates how the two philosophies, although they have been in a state of debate since the beginning of time, were both searching for the same answers but in a different way. Through Buddhism and science the Palanese have all found what it truly means to be yourself, what one could call oneness, what the meaning of nirvana is, and what the meaning of life itself.
As the main character Will embarks on his journey through enlightenment, I became enlightened too. I grew to understand what the existence of a “God” may truly mean. I grew to understand how the existence of everything affects the existence of “you”. And I grew to understand how precious life truly is. Not only did I depart on this journey with Will Farnaby, but I departed on my own journey. I grew fascinated of Pala’s education system and how the Palanese people live in the most scientifically advanced society yet the lives’ are still extraordinarily simple.
4) Pala is an island of heterodox, and its imperfections are what make it perfect
Pala is not a utopia where everyone is cheery, happy, and are everlastingly jocular. The people are not perfect, they can’t do everything right, and the masses have accepted that they are who (what) they were born as. The Palanese people have embraced their ineptitude in some fields and pursued their gifts in others. I was fascinated at this mindset because, frankly, our world is the polar opposite. Pala taught me to be just as proud of the things I can’t do than, the things I can.
When reading the first pages of “Island” it’s quite apparent that Pala is a society with unconventional practices and the most peculiar people. It was the Palanese children who could hold philosophical conversations with elders, the birds which were responsive to the human aurora and the “moksha medicine” drug of perception that all Palanese people ingest which rose my eyebrows but also made me question what if our society was structured in such a way and what is stopping it from being so. How could a world so weird, so imperfect, so deranged by free of the evils our society faces?
5) What’s stopping you from reading it?
Nothing. I highly recommend this book to every reader, to people who question humanity, to people who question themselves, to parents, to philosophers, to students, to teachers, the list goes on. I cannot stress how extremely thought-provoking this book is over half a century from its release. Learn what war is, learn what peace is, learn about love and hatred, and learn about yourself from the “Island”. Here and Now please…..