What originally caught my attention with this book was that when I was wondering around Dymocks in Adelaide I discovered it in one of the cheap book buckets, and since it was slim, and cheap, I decided to buy it. I'm not really sure why I originally purchased it, maybe it had something to do with it being written by Voltaire, and the fact that it was slim and it was cheap (and being on Austudy at the time, I did not have huge amounts of money to spend on books, and also being relatively time poor, meaning that I was at University and had a lot of other books to read as well, I wanted something quick and easy to read – though the words quick and easy do not go all that well with Voltaire).
The story is about a boy named Candide who grows up in a castle (that happens to be called Thunder-ten-Tronckh, which is the coolest name for a castle that I have heard, though I am not sure whether it actually exists, however according to Voltaire it is somewhere in Westphalia). Anyway, Candide falls in love with the sister of the baron, but the baron is not at all happy with that so he kicks him out of the castle, and Candide then goes off, gets captured by a group known as the Burgundians, gets caught up in an earthquake in Lisbon, and lands up in El Dorado after travelling through the jungles of South America. In the end he finds himself in Turkey, becomes reacquainted with his long lost love only to discover that she has become one of the ugliest women that he has ever encountered (not that it actually puts him off her because he ends up getting together with her anyway) and then settles down in a small cottage with his companions and spends the rest of his life tending a garden (which he realises is the essence of life, if only because when God created humanity, he put humanity in a garden to tend it).
I should make a comment about this whole idea of tending a garden because it actually seems to be one of those past times that people simply seem to enjoy. Me, I've never been much of a gardener, and I have only ever successfully grown two plants (one of them being Aloe Vera), though I have found myself of late wondering out the back of my house randomly pulling up weeds simply because when I look a them I get this feeling that they shouldn't be there and I want to pull them up. Actually, that is getting a bit extreme for me because as I sit on the train as it pulls out of Flinders Street Station I see all of these weeds on the tracks and a part of me wants to get out and start pulling them up as well (I wonder if others also get that feeling).
Gardening though seems to be one of those things that a lot of us Westerners seem to have a passion for, though I should be a bit more specific because not many of us have the opportunity of living in a house with a garden. Those of us in Australia (and America) where space is not at a premium, can live in houses with a backyard and as such have a garden. However, in places like Europe and China, to have a garden means that you have money, and a lot of it. I remember going on a date with a Chinese girl in Hong Kong and when I showed her a Google Map (streetview) image of my house, she burst out in amazement at the fact that I had a garden. However, if you wonder around parts of Australia you will discover that a lot of houses that could have gardens, don't, simply because people don't want to put an effort into creating them.
Creating a garden is sort of like creating a work of art. In fact a garden is a work of art. If you travel to the parks and to some of the mansions that are open to the public, you will discover incredibly manicured gardens. I remember that my old next door neighbour had a beautiful garden, however she ended up selling her house, which was then leased to a bunch of bogans, and within two months the garden was all but destroyed. I guess that is the problem with buying houses with gardens – if you buy it, and you pay for the garden, then you should be ready to look after it and make sure that it is maintained in that state because looking after a garden is a lot of effort, and a lot of work, and if you lease out a house with a garden, expect that garden not to last all that long.
Well, it seems that I have been talking a lot about gardens, but have not actually said much about the book itself – well I guess that is what you get when you read one of my commentaries. Anyway, the idea behind the book is that things don't happen for a reason. This is in response (most likely to Calvinism) that everything happens for a reason, and that if bad things happen to you then it is because God has a reason as to why that happens. The truth cannot be further from the truth. Take for instance the Book of Job in the Bible. Job, a faithful worshipper of God suddenly discovers that the shit pretty much hits the fan when it comes to his life, and when he asks why his friends all come up with reasons as to why this happened – however they were wrong: in the end God says to him that this shit happened because, well, basically shit happens.
Okay, there is much more beyond the trials of Job than simply shit happens, but when Job questions God, and God responds, God does not give him a straight answer but simply says 'shit happens' (though not in those exact terms, though I am sure that the bible would be much more appealing if the translators actually used the correct words rather than watering it down a lot because Christians don't use the phrase 'shit happens' or at least most Christians don't, namely because I'm a Christian and I just said 'shit happens').
I'm probably one of those people that takes the narrow road. Okay, to an extent I believe in a predestined universe, however the thing is that history is made up by our own decisions, and the decisions of others. There are things that happen to us that are beyond our control (such as an earthquake) and there are things that happen to us because we make a decision (such as a divorce that comes out of the fact that we decided to have sex with the secretary). Granted, I do believe in an omnipotent God, however the thing is that God has given us free will, and what that means is that we can and do choose our destiny. For instance those of us that remain in our dead end job and do nothing to actually move out of that dead end job (or behave in such an appalling manner that we end up putting off all of the people who have the power to move us out of that dead end job) have nobody to blame but ourselves, however those of us that get caught in a fire that results in substantial burns to our body, and the cause of the fire is due to somebody else's stupidity well, as mean as it may sound, but seriously, shit happens.
Hey, I work in a job where I hear quite often 'why am I being made to pay when it is not my fault?'. It is a cry that I hear again and again, but the truth is that this is what this world is all about. It is not that God does not love us, but rather it is because we, as humans, want to live our life our own way, and when bad things happen to us, whether it be our fault or not, then we want to blame others. What hurts even more is that when we do the right thing, such as admitting wrong because we did something stupid, we then have to pay for it. Unfortunately we live in a harsh world – and this is what Voltaire is getting at here, the world is harsh, and it is due to the actions of people and due to things that are beyond our control, and to sit down there and hide ourselves in a belief that everything happens for a purpose is, in many cases, foolish. What we need to accept and realise is that 'shit happens' and that as long as we live in this world 'shit' will continue to 'happen' whether it is because of our actions or not. We simply have to accept it, and if we can't, well go find a garden to tend, because that is the only happiness you are going to find in this world.