My bias in this review is that I took some of it personally and started crying on the airplane. I’ll explain, but be warned there are thematic spoilers.
Magellania is one of Jules Verne’s later works, related to Lighthouse in that it takes place at the southernmost tip of South America, where it is cold and dry and half-Antarctic. The plot introduces us to a white man named Kaw-djer, who despises governments and religious authorities. He lives among the native inhabitants of Magellania…appearing to “civilization” to be no more than a drifter or an outcast, but to his friends, a compassionate and dedicated doctor. Kaw-djer is determined to answer to no one, and is prepared to take his life into his own hands if anyone tries to find him. Yet surely, he thinks, no one will find him at the end of the world…
In college, and by the strangest circumstances, I became closely acquainted with someone whom I wouldn’t normally have met. Like Kaw-djer, he had been faced with repeated disappointment. He was also fiercely and fervently devoted to his ideals, which, though not identical to Kaw-djer’s, were not dissimilar. I felt he was a good person with noble intentions, but he was rooted in humanism and I was not. We both believe there will be a new world someday; his picture of it is very different from mine.
But back to Verne’s character. You follow Kaw-djer’s struggles to maintain his independence, through despair, fear, hope, and more disappointment. You can’t help but empathize with his realization that he is alone, and eventually civilization – sometimes benevolent, sometimes cruel – will overtake every wilderness left on earth. He has nowhere left to hide, when at last, through the hardest moments of his life, he meets God, who loved him first, like Kaw-djer unselfishly loved the Magellanians. He finds what he was wanting all his life. His socialist principles aren’t abandoned, but rather, on their way to becoming conformed – in a sense, reconciled (or nearly that) to his new perspective. This doesn’t happen through words, but through events, experiences, and external influences. Verne knew that these factors could deeply affect Kaw-djer, where a sermon might not.
I don’t know what else to say. It was an unsettling, yet deep read that hit home. This is one of the very best books I’ve read…but again, I’m biased because I knew someone like Kaw-djer.