June 20, 2014


'When People Choose, They Choose Wrong' : The author of 'The Giver,' a wildly popular dystopian novel, imagines a community with no war, racism or gender roles. The result: a living hell. (SOHRAB AHMARI, June 20, 2014, WSJ)

In the novel's unnamed community, most people are color-blind thanks to genetic engineering. Technology allows complete control over the weather. War and racism are things of the past. Traditional gender roles are abolished. The word "love" isn't used because it's linguistically "imprecise." All books except reference manuals are banned. And a government committee assigns each individual's career for life, since, as one leader puts it in the movie version, "When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong."

The sterile serenity of this place is maintained in part by the fact that the community lives in a perpetual present tense. It is technologically advanced but lacks the wisdom of prior generations. To avoid the pain of memories--of real enmity, fear, loss, hatred and so on--the community calls on one person to carry all of them. Jonas has been selected to be that person.

"The Giver" resists easy political categorization, and the book's appeal cuts across a broad spectrum of readers. Over the years, Ms. Lowry has corresponded with thousands of fans, including Trappist monks (a Catholic order sworn to a vow of silence), Mormons and Orthodox Jewish children, psychotics and psychiatrists, liberals and conservatives. "A lot of Christian churches use it as part of their religious curriculum," she says. "Jewish people give it as a bar mitzvah gift." And while she's quick to burnish her own Democratic Party leanings, Ms. Lowry concedes that social conservatives "could find their views validated by this book."

That's putting it mildly. The book's most memorable, and controversial, aspect is the community's casual disregard for the dignity of human life. Infants with disabilities, those who don't adjust well to their host families or meet certain height and weight criteria by a specified age, are "released." Any adult who wants to leave the community is also subject to "release," and the elderly, too, are routinely "released" after a ritual celebration. It won't take adults long to guess what "release" entails, but for young readers, encountering the horror of infanticide and euthanasia from Jonas's perspective can be an overpowering experience.

It's an entirely conservative text.

Posted by at June 20, 2014 8:36 PM

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