Book Club book #2: Candide

Posted in: Books, Reviews, Book Club

This book was probably the high-brow point for our book club, and for a moment it made me feel like the classiest person on Earth: here I was with my friends, discussing the highs and lows, bits and bobs, from our last book, Ender's Game. Wines around the table, sophisticated discussion, and now we were selecting Candide, a very old story from an author of another continent and time period when everybody still had 1 name... yeah, it was all class.

But only for that moment.

Candide was just 1 of the 2 books we chose to read for the next meeting. I'll save the other book for the next blog post, otherwise it'll ruin the whole 'class' aspect I was going for with this one.

Candide

Book, free (public domain), written by Voltaire, http://www.amazon.com/Candide-ebook/dp/B004UJGFKG/
Candide

I had never heard of Candide before, but I had heard of Voltaire. I have no idea where I had heard the name from before - to me his name was just one of those which I knew because I felt I should know it. I did go through a whole philosophy period during my high school / early university years, looking up philosophers from the past and reading their works, trying to understand various points-of-view, etc. I'm guessing it was then that his name popped up.

Candide is the story of a young man, Candide (funnily enough), who, having spent most of his life raised in a sheltered environment and educated by his mentor, an Optimist called Pangloss, is suddenly ripped from that lifestyle by one disaster (war), and pushed even further away from it by disaster (earthquake) after disaster (pirate attack, misunderstanding with the locals, etc). Throughout this journey which takes him around the (known) world, the optimism instilled in Candide by Pangloss is challenged again and again until it all but shatters and Candide is nothing but some whiny emo kid with parental issues.

While Candide's mental journey was easy enough to summarize in that last paragraph, his physical journey will require quite a few more pages to describe. If I did have to pick a word for it, it would be: ridiculous. Candide manages to find himself in all sorts of countries - some very far from home - but what actually happened in each of those places drew a 'WTF!?' face from me time and time again. Here's some highlights: a woman with one buttock, everybody dying, naked women being chased by monkeys, pack sheep containing hordes of money, then everybody not dying!

Everything that happened in the book reminded me of Forrest Gump (the movie, I never read the book) in that both main characters kept finding themselves in all manner of time and place where some crazy shit happens. Like Forrest Gump, I was glued to the book because I kept wanting to know just what would happen next. Unlike Forrest, Candide was never an inspirational character: Forrest would make you feel good about yourself somehow; Candide would take life's blows to the stomach then keep on moving to his next destination where the world would kick him in the balls or something.

My friends assured me that Candide was a satire, although what it was satirizing was completely lost on me amid the mental plot, the crazy characters, and the absurd twists. Wikipedia also makes mention of it being a satire, but English (not the language) was always my worst subject during high school. I was never that good at discovering themes, finding deeper meanings in texts, or figuring out just what the author was "trying to say". I was way too literal for that subject. Hell, I'm way too literal now, and here I am writing long-form blog posts and short stories on the internet.

Maybe my inability to find the satire in the story led me to my conclusion of Candide: that the whole thing felt kind of pointless. Sure the journey was a laugh and a half, but by the end of it when everything gets wrapped up and everybody un-dies, I was mentally throwing my hands into the air and thinking, What was the point!? We're back where we started! There is no moral to the story, everything's pretty much back to the way it was before chapter 1, except maybe Candide is a lot more cynical, and every female character is described as significantly less beautiful.

Yes, the book actually said that.

Satire or not, the book made me laugh, several times, and it's hard for me to fault a good comedy.

7 out of 10.