Good books not only entertain, but also challenge readers to examine, and perhaps make changes in their own lives. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn definitely falls into this category.
Ishmael, published in 1992, was quickly praised for its innovative approach, and went on to be a best seller. It is a complex work that features elements of psychology and philosophy, which explains why the books subtitle is An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit.
The novel follows the intellectual development of the narrator, an unidentified man. As a youth, he admired the social reformers of the 1960s and believed that everyone had the power to make a difference in society. In time, he became more disillusioned and world-weary until he reached the cynical, apathetic state the reader finds him in. This soon changes when he runs across an ad in the paper that reads: Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.
He is skeptical, but answers the ad to satisfy his curiosity. His teacher turns out to be Ishmael, a wise gorilla who has the power to communicate. While the premise of a gorilla dispensing advice is rather absurd, it does not seem as strange if you can accept it as a literary device that aids the novels progression.
Ishmael shows the narrator how to escape the narrow mindset that society has ingrained in him. He raises many questions about our culture, beliefs and perception of the world, but never answers them. Instead, Ishmael guides the narrator until he discovers the truth on his own.
The novel highlights much of the arrogance and selfishness that characterizes the human race. Ishmael chastises individuals for adopting a value system based on what our culture dictates rather than what we actually believe. This work also challenges the theory that humans have the right to manipulate the environment with no concern for potentially harmful consequences. Ishmael presents the idea that man belongs to the earth; the earth does not belong to man. It is also interesting that an animal assumed to be inferior to humans is the one who leads the narrator to enlightenment.
Anyone with an open mind will be fascinated by this intriguing novel. It is a powerful piece that is sure to inspire contemplation and reflection in all its readers.