Monday, November 26, 2007

Fiction That Matters: Chateau Beyond Time

Chateau Beyond Time
by Michael Tobias

Published by Council Oak Books
Hardcover, 256 pages, March 2008
ISBN: 978-1571782137

Essay by Michael Pastore

Michael Tobias is our greatest living author. He has not only forged the conscience of our race, but challenged us to hear and respond to the slumbering consciences deep within each one of us. In 2006 he blessed the world with an 1,800-page novel, The Adventures of Mr Marigold, a masterpiece which, in my opinion, stands beside Don Quixote as one of the world's funniest and wisest books. His next work, Donkey, filled with extraordinary photographs and illustrations (and co-authored with Jane Morrison), is a passionate tribute to a lovable and under-appreciated beast. Tobias's newest book, Chateau Beyond Time, is an environmental thriller, a Utopian novel that artfully blends fiction and facts, a page-turner with a plot so intricate and ingenious that I could not put it down until the final mystery revealed itself.

Chateau Beyond Time might be read and admired for any number of reasons: its crisp dialogue, its stunning European settings, its flashes of humor, its superb literary style. Lovers of nature -- or lovers of art, history, music, literature, philosophy, Utopian studies -- will be amazed at the author's encyclopedic knowledge of these realms. And technophiles will enjoy reading how the latest technologies -- computers, information databases, and extraordinary gadgets -- are utilized, by rogues and poachers to profit from the natural world, and by scholars and law-enforcement persons to preserve it.

The 20th Century -- with its violence and wars, its loss of religious faith, its growing social problems and ecological catastrophes -- has been called "The Age of Disillusionment." As we begin the 21st Century, we have entered "The Age of Illusion": countless human beings attempting to escape from themselves and from the world's unpleasant realities, via electronic entertainment, or material possessions, or artificial stimulants. For the most part, our writers have failed to understand (and then assume) the tremendous responsibility of the literary artist. Most of our authors have failed because they give us either superficial stories to amuse and distract us, or novels saturated with pessimism, despair, futility, and hopelessness. Fifty-four years ago, the great American critic Van Wyck Brooks, pre-envisioned a new species of writer, when (in The Writer in America) he wrote: "I suggest that we need above all at present those who can restore for us a feeling for the true aims of living, who can remind us of the goodness in men, bring back the joy of life and give one a sense of human hope."

Tobias is one of the rare authors who can accomplish this kind of literary miracle. For the past ten years I have been reading his books for three reasons: for the pure pleasure of the reading experience; to tap his Goethe-like knowledge of the worlds of books, nature, and men; and for the humanizing vision imbued in every word. His secret can be epitomized in the poem by Sengai: "Every stroke of my brush is the overflow of my inmost heart."

And this inmost heart -- as you will find in the works of William Blake and Percy Shelley and Walt Whitman and Nikos Kazantzakis -- emanates from what Erich Fromm (and later, E. O. Wilson) have named "biophilia". Albert Schweitzer calls it "reverence for life".`

Chateau Beyond Time -- essential reading for everyone who cares about preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species -- can be read purely for enjoyment. And those of us who are seeking something more -- from life and books -- will find that "more" on every page. Tobias brings us a novel and enlightened slant on the perennial philosophy of that ancient philosopher who encouraged us to live heartfully, with a planetary consciousness that makes us fully human. And what is that precious perennial philosophy? ... "When we have learned to love not our separate life, but all living things, then at last we shall find peace."

-- Michael Pastore