Sorry that this post is up late! I came to write it on Friday and my Internet was down and then yesterday was super busy! Hope you are enjoying a nice lonnnng weekend!
I really liked this book. I liked the pretense of searching for A Great Perhaps. I liked the boarding school setting. I liked the characters. It was a nice refreshing read.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with John Green about the book.
Q. In that vein, just how autobiographical is Looking for Alaska?
A. I have always danced around this question, and I think I’m going to continue dancing around it now. Like Miles, I grew up in Florida and attended a boarding school in Alabama. And the physical setting of Alaska is very, very similar to the physical place I attended boarding school. Generally, the book is probably more autobiographical than I usually acknowledge. But it is very much a work of fiction. The facts, I can assure you, were ignored.
Q. What was the catalyst for this novel?
A. In the study of religion, there is this word theodicy, which refers to the question of why a God who is both loving and all powerful would allow there to be such unequal suffering in the world. In college, when I started to study religion, that was the question that interested me most. So in some ways, that was the catalyst for the novel. After I graduated from college, I worked for a while at a children’s hospital, where I encountered the same problem in stark, awful reality. It was in the hospital that I started to think about writing a story in which teenagers experience loss and a consuming guilt that cannot be easily assuaged. I started writing it just a few months after I left the hospital.
Q. How did you come up with the book’s unusual structure?
A. I’d been working on the book with very limited success for about 18 months before September 11, 2001. And then in the days after 9/11, I was alone in my apartment in Chicago watching the commercial-free news 24 hours a day. On TV, people kept saying that this was a defining moment for my generation of Americans, that we would all remember the world in terms of before 9/11 and after it. And I thought about how time is usually measured that way: Christians date from before and after the birth of Christ. Muslims date from before and after the hijrah. We look back to the most important moment in our history, and that becomes the dividing line between what we were and what we are now. So I wanted to reflect on the way we measure and think of time. And also, for the characters in Alaska, there is a moment that changes their lives forever, and that redefines their understanding of the world. I wanted the importance of that moment to be central to the novel’s structure.
Q. And finally: In the “Some Last Words on Last Words” section at the end of Looking for Alaska, you write, “I was born into Bolivar’s labyrinth, and so I must believe in the hope of Rabelais’ Great Perhaps.” Would you expand on this? And are there ever any truly last words?
A. The Dutch title of Alaska is Het Grote Misschien, which means The Great Perhaps. But if you type it into Babel Fish, it translates Het Grote Misschien as “The Big Maybe.” I’m undecided as to whether there are ever any truly last words. That’s the big maybe. As for the quote cited above, I mean that I believe in hope, in what is sometimes called “radical hope.” I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering-and maybe even inside the suffering. And that’s why I write fiction, probably. It’s my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness.
And now onto some questions for YOU.
1. Has this novel changed the way you regard human suffering? And death?
2. One of the characters, Dr. Hyde says, “Everything that comes together falls apart.” Do you think the author agrees? How does he deal with this Zen belief in his novel?
3. Alaska loves these two lines from the poet W. C. Auden: “You shall love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart.” What do these lines mean to you and why do you think Alaska likes them so much?
4. This novel is filled with wonderful characters. Who is your favorite? Why? Do you know any people like these characters?
5. Can you imagine Miles and the Colonel as adults? What might they be like? What professions do you suppose they might choose?
Hope you join us in September!!!