ISHMAEL was chosen as the winner of the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, endowed by Ted Turner to solicit fiction that suggests creative and positive solutions to global problems. The problems Daniel Quinn tackles are the deterioration of the earth and its atmosphere, the mass extinction of many species of life, and the increasing insufficience of the earth in providing for its inhabitants. Quinn blames these problems on humanity.
Though his plotting and writing style are only mediocre, Quinn’s subject matter is worthy of great attention. Ishmael, a gorilla who possesses wisdom of the world and can relate his thoughts to humans, becomes the teacher in this imaginative novel. He prompts his student, the unnamed narrator, to discover the laws that guide life. Ishmael insists that all animals, including humans, are governed by laws of nature as exact and binding as the laws of aerodynamics, or the laws of gravity. The problem is that humans have not recognized that they are subject to these laws.
The student, heavily immersed in and brainwashed by “Mother Culture,” has trouble accepting Ishmael’s untraditional worldview. Fearful of losing his student to frustration, Ishmael patiently presents his philosophy of life, giving clear and convincing examples of its accuracy. He divides humanity into two large groups: the Leavers and the Takers (Quinn’s jargon for “the primitive” and “the civilized”).
(The entire section is 400 words.)
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