Veronica's Reviews > Wild: An Elemental Journey

Wild by Jay Griffiths
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's review
Dec 11, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, travel
Read in August, 2007

I've never read a book quite like this; it's very difficult to describe. Seven years in the writing, like some mythical hero's trials, it's a hymn to the wild, written by a young poet, anthropologist, philosopher, adventurer, and probably manic depressive too. It's divided into sections for each element: Earth, Ice (an element on its own), Water, Fire, and Air, and Griffiths travels the globe in search of unspoiled wildness: the Amazon, the Arctic, Indonesia, Australia, and West Papua (with a brief epilogue in Outer Mongolia). It might seem overdone in places but there is some wonderful sweeping poetry and passionate advocacy of the rights of "savages", as well as epic rage against suburbia, Christianity, and golf courses, among other things.

The language itself is wild and anarchic, although she is wonderful on the etymology of words, drawing all sorts of intriguing connections. On the enclosure of land in Australia, for example: "Fence... means not only boundary but also the keeper of stolen goods, and settlers, stealing the land, fenced it before they did anything else."

Her bibliography is staggeringly eclectic and erudite: she quotes the Bible, Rousseau, Francis Bacon, Conrad, and Flanders and Swann with equal facility. Yet despite her erudition she can become fully absorbed by "wild" cultures, getting stoned with shamans in Peru, going out with whale hunters in Alaska, or struggling through mountains and swamps in West Papua with local guides whom she feels more at home with than the obnoxious-sounding anthropologist who is her companion.
I took seven years over this work, spent all I had, my time, money and energy. Part of the journey was a green riot and part a deathly bleakness. I got ill, I got well ... I got to the point of collapse. I got the giggles. I met cannibals infinitely kinder and more trustworthy than the murderous missionaries who evangelize them. ... I found a paradox of wildness in the glinting softness of its charisma, for what is savage is in the deepest sense gentle and what is wild is kind.
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