About Death and Looking for Alaska by John Green

2 months ago Shaili Desai 2

This week, I finished reading Looking for Alaska by John Green and Men Without Women by Haruki Marakumi. I am sitting in my cozy corner in my room – specially created for the purpose of reading, writing and meditating. I am staring at my hardcover copy of Looking for Alaska by John Green. The jacket is a glowing combination of gold and black, as I had mentioned in my last post about what the cover means to me. Much like I had anticipated, it signifies catharsis to me.

John Green is most famous for his best selling young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which was also adapted into a movie of the same name, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Now, this book was a love story of sorts with the backdrop of cancer and coping with it. However, Looking for Alaska is not a love story.

Looking for Alaska by John Green starts with the narrator, Miles Halter, leaving home to seek a great perhaps of his own. He comes to Culver Creek, a boarding school where he becomes friends with Alaska Young, a very intelligent and equally moody young woman and Chip, a poor genius kid. Accompanied by Takumi and later, Lara – they make for a gang of friends that Miles Halter never had before in his life that he left behind at home. What follows is a story of friendship, longing, and of death – the loss of sanity, purging of emotions and of finally, getting back that sanity.

Alaska Young is an interesting character – in many ways, she is the quintessential millennial of the intelligent variety – a great reader with a questionably flighty attention span, moody and philosophical, self destructive, flirty and open at the same time and broken, in many ways. Also, she is essentially non judgemental – of herself as well as other people, especially those she calls friends. It is hard not to fall in love with her. She is the good looking, intelligent, thoughtful girl next door that always has a boyfriend who you think she’d never cheat on.

Chip aka Colonel is another quirky character – he is rebellious and loyal to the core, along with a deep sense of right and wrong. He comes from a poor background and he is conveniently aware and ignorant at the same time. However, he takes pride in his background and his interactions with his mother are heartwarming, making him an extremely affable person.

I liked how the book connects two central themes in the novel – seeking a great perhaps and how death has to be an inevitable part of it. There are people and experiences who will always influence your great perhaps and there is nothing that you can do about it.  If ‘The Great Perhaps’ were a place, it would have to be one that was made up of dreams. Of dreams and unchartered, undulating topography – climbing that mountain would be oh-so-hard – but the feeling that you get when you finally do, leaves much for circumspection and gratitude for the simple joy of living.

The theme of ‘The Great Perhaps’ is also one that I believe is profoundly linked to the tragic phenomenon called death. There could be the death of people, the death of dreams or the death of longing and various other multidimensional emotions on the way to it. This comes up manier times in the novel, whether it be the narrator’s penchant for remembering the last words of famous people or papers for the classes in Religious studies – posing questions to students on where people go after death, the existence of the places called heaven and hell and inviting them to answer their own questions. Ultimately it is also about finding your own peace as no matter how hard you look for what may be lost – some answers to many questions can never be found.

Essentially this is what Looking for Alaska by John Green is about. The end draws too near and some questions aren’t answered by the author in ways that you would expect – but it makes for good reading, apart from the various references to loads of books (If I had the time to analyze, I would probably figure about some link between all the literary references to the story).

Note – John Green has announced the release of his new book, Turtles all the way down, in October this year.

I have also started a new project – I am creating a list of all books/literary works mentioned in each book that I read. I started with Looking for Alaska and this is what I found:

     
 

Other mentions with incomplete information:

  1. Meriwether Lewis – Biography (?) | Buy
  2. Religious Studies, Textbook | Carl Olson (?) | Buy
  3. Francois Rabelais – Biography | Buy on Amazon

Do you like this last part where I write down all the references to other books? I shall be continuing this for all my posts on books that I’ve read. The ultimate object is to check which book gets referenced the maximum number of times. Does that feel exciting to you? Comments awaited!