‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ is a fable about the quest for perfection in a seagull, Jonathan. A rare sea-gull, Jonathan, aspires to fly not for food but ‘to know what (he) can do in the air’. While all the other gulls in his flock squabble for morsels of food, Jonathan spends his time practicing speed and trying to achieve ‘terminal velocity’.
His various misadventures while practicing speed, lead him to be banished from his flock. Jonathan, as an outcast, then creates his own personal paradise as a lonely seagull passionately following his dream of perfect flight.
Two seagulls ‘pure as starlight’ fetch Jonathan from this personal paradise to guide him to a higher level of consciousness- to a place closer to Heaven. Here, Jonathan finds seagulls who are more like him, in their passion for achieving perfect flight. Jonathan stays in the place and learns. His flying improves until one day he can reach from one place to another at the speed of thought.
At this point, Jonathan is faced with a dilemma of whether to continue his personal pursuit for perfection further, or to help those ordinary sea-gulls he had left long ago to discover the ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ in each one of them. He chooses the later and returns to the flock which had banished him. Jonathan’s constant and painstaking attempts at arousing this passion for perfection in his fellow gulls slowly start bearing fruit as one by one, these gulls start seeking out his company and tuition.
And through each of these gulls Jonathan’s quest continues.
This book does not have any social/historical context. It is timeless- it holds true for mankind across ages.
First published in 1970, this book became a best seller in America and has stayed a darling of the masses ever since. Riding on a wave of optimism and positive thinking, prevalent in America at that time, this book could achieve the status of a ‘must-read’ in the common man’s library. I think the book has retained this status to this date- at least in India.
This book of profound thought spans hardly a one hundred and fifty pages. Expressing his thoughts in strict, stark and simple sentences, Bach reminds one of Antoine de Saint Exupéry in The Little Prince. The reader is left to close the book after finishing this short story and ponder on the ‘Jonathan Seagull, who lives within us all’. To guide the reader’s imagination further, this book provides some very interesting photographs of seagulls in flight by Russell Munson. These photographs provide happy interludes to the philosophical content of the book.
I read the book at a very young and impressionable age. At that point in time, this book inspired me to follow my dreams; in fact, it helped create quite a romantic in me. This was the first Bach I had read. After this book, I developed a certain admiration for Bach’s philosophy and went on to read various other works by Bach. So, personally, I would rate ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ as one of those few books which grow upon you and linger on.
Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha
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