ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn

ISHMAEL

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Here's the novel that, out of 2500 submissions, won the ecological-minded Turner Tomorrow Award--and caused a mutiny among the judges when it was awarded the $500,000 first prize. Is it that good--or bad? No, but it's certainly unusual, even eccentric, enough to place Quinn (the paperback Dreamer, 1988) on the cult literary map. What's most unusual is that this novel scarcely is one: beneath a thin narrative glaze, it's really a series of Socratic dialogues between man and ape, with the ape as Socrates. The nameless man, who narrates, answers a newspaper ad (``TEACHER seeks pupil...'') that takes him to a shabby office tenanted by a giant gorilla; lo! the ape begins to talk to him telepathically (Quinn's failure to explain this ability is typical of his approach: idea supersedes story). Over several days, the ape, Ishmael, as gruff as his Greek model, drags the man into a new understanding of humanity's place in the world. In a nutshell, Ishmael argues that humanity has evolved two ways of living: There are the ``Leavers,'' or hunter-gatherers (e.g., Bushmen), who live in harmony with the rest of life; and there are the ``Takers'' (our civilization), who arose with the agricultural revolution, aim to conquer the rest of life, and are destroying it in the process. Takers, Ishmael says, have woven a ``story'' to rationalize their conquest; central to this story is the idea that humanity is flawed--e.g., as told in the Bible. But not so, Ishmael proclaims; only the Taker way is flawed: Leavers offer a method for living well in the world. After Ishmael dies of pneumonia, his newly converted pupil can only ponder the ape's parting message: ``WITH GORILLA GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR MAN?'' A washout as a story, with zero emotional punch; but of substantial intellectual appeal as the extensive Q&A passages (despite their wild generalities and smug self-assurance) invariably challenge and provoke: both Socrates and King Kong might be pleased.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-553-07875-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1991




MORE BY DANIEL QUINN

FictionTHE HOLY by Daniel Quinn
by Daniel Quinn
NonfictionBEYOND CIVILIZATION by Daniel Quinn
by Daniel Quinn
FictionMY ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn
by Daniel Quinn

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