“In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mount McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters…”
So begins the extraordinary and riveting “Into the Wild” which quickly became a bestseller. Krakauer himself is an adventure travel writer, and (consciously or otherwise) identified quite deeply with his subject, defending his choices even though they eventually led to his untimely (and unnecessary) death.
Not surprisingly then, this is a book that has polarised readers dramatically - some love it (they see Chris as a dreamer and idealist) whilst others hate it (they regard him as a spoilt brat with no respect for the terrain into which he travelled). Still, few of them, I suspect, would deny that the way the Krakauer tells his story is truly compelling.
Whilst it’s clear from the very beginning of the book that this story will end in tragedy, the author writes engagingly, going to some lengths to point out the complex personality of Chris McCandless. Krakauer obviously admires the fact that this young kid took risks (however reckless), trying to live up to his high ideals, wandering the US and meeting all kinds of people, many of whom he touched quite deeply, before his final trip into the Alaskan wild.
What I personally find so enthralling about this book is the way Chris McCandless was looking for meaning and purpose in his life - as well as great adventure. Perhaps he secretly saw himself as a modern-day Thoreau - clearly he was a hopeless romantic (which was why he was horribly ill-equipped for this trek, without the necessary clothing, equipment or food to sustain him). But that, in some ways, is what makes the book come alive for me - all of the contradictions. Chris was smart, thoughtful, engaged, determined to live a ‘bigger’ life than many of us do but, at the same time, he refused to take nature seriously, not even learning basic survival skills before he set off on his fateful trip.
This is a book I have read several times; my copy is battered. I’ve also given it to many friends (this is the mark of a classic!) It’s actually quite tough for me to write a review of this book because it’s had such a big impact on me - maybe a part of me (like Krakauer) identifies to much with this well-meaning but foolhardy young man. What also resonates with me is the loss - the fact the this boy starved to death, alone, with a copy of Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” next to him. (I kid you not).
In any event, I urge you to read this book and make your own mind up. And it’s not easy. I admit myself, a part of me was furious with this kid - I wanted to judge him for being ill-prepared and foolish, and for breaking the hearts of his family in just ‘disappearing.’ But another parts of me wants to forgive him, like Krakauer does, and remember that, for all of his faults, Chris was generous-hearted, kind to others and idealistic. He wasn’t a liar, a thief or a layabout - he was self-motivated, self-aware and desperate to live his dream. The tragedy was that he didn’t live long enough to do so.
Conclusion - a must-buy.