REVIEW: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
Five Union prisoners escape from the siege of Richmond in a balloon, are blown off course and crash on an uncharted island. They must learn to rebuild a society for themselves while awaiting rescue.
Even after living in the US for two decades, I cannot quite figure out whether Jules Verne is a popular writer here (or in any other country, really). I mean I do see his books occasionally when I walk in the Barnes and Noble, but none of my book buds seem to have him amongst their favorites. So I have no idea, but Jules Verne was quite popular in the Soviet Union when I was growing up. I first read a lot of his stories when I was very young and same as many of my favorite books that I read at that age, “Mysterious Island” traveled with me to my adulthood and I love it today as much as ever.
I love it because my heart went out to all the five men (well four men, and a fifteen year old boy – when our story begins) who wanted to escape the siege of Richmond and who were ready to risk anything for that and possibly even their lives. And they escaped all right – to the island where nobody else was living, they had to throw the meager possessions they managed to take with them into the ocean, so when they crashed they had nothing with them. They only had their strength, bravery, intelligence and their quickly formed friendship to survive together.
Of course the writer helped them out a lot by making sure the island had a lot of natural resources. A lot of them! However, they literally had to build so many things from scratch and their hard work (and engineering knowledge of the man who became their leader) was a big part of their success.
I have read some answers to the questions and some reviews of the book at Goodreads, because I really was interested in the opinions of those who actually read the book.
First and foremost there are two books that have some characters in common with this book. “In Search of the Castaways” and “Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea” should be read *before* this book regardless of when Verne wrote those two. These three books are connected very loosely. They do not tell you the same continuous story as the normal trilogy would, however, the story of one character from “Search of Castaways” and the story of one character from “Twenty Thousands Leagues” gets satisfying conclusion ( for me) in “Mysterious Island”.
Some reviews compared the story with “Robinson Crusoe”. I agree that comparison works – if for no other reason then only because it is also a story of survival at the uninhabited island. However, I also liked this book so much better than Robinson. I read Robinson but never had any desire to reread it and I think the main reason was because these men had each other, they supported each other, sacrificed for each other and worked together to make the island where they crashed good place to live in. They had no reason to think that they would ever leave it after all.
Another review of the book I have read basically stated it was boring because there was not much plot. I do not agree with it, however I think I can *see* how somebody else can view this book as boring, because a lot of the plot describes the work men did , be it building the place for the animals they tamed, or making clothing for themselves, or gardening. The work together occupies a lot of page space for sure.
But this is not all our colonists did, not at all! They got to save a life, they had to battle pirates, they kept saving each other from various dangers and they got to discover the secret that their Island had.
I always love a redemption story too and for one of the characters the book told such a story.
I have almost a sentimental attachment to this book. Not all childhood favorites survived the rereads, but this one did and I remember reading this book to my brother before bed when he was four and I was eight, so please understand that even though I am giving it the highest grade, I am aware of the issues the book may have for other readers.
First and foremost there are no women in this story. I was not bothered by that, because it made sense to me, but if you do not want to read a book with only male characters, this is not a book for you.
I also read that Jules Verne did not do a very good job describing the Richmond of 1865, but I would not know one way or another, just something to keep in mind.
Also, one of the characters is a Black guy who was initially a slave. The former owner freed Nab long time ago, but Nab decided to stay and be a free servant because he loved this guy so much. I do not feel qualified to decide if his portrayal was problematic. I do think that Nab is portrayed in the same very sympathetic way as other main characters, but if it bothers you that he chose to stay with his former owner, one more time, just beware.