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BOOK REVIEW: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA– by Jules Verne

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ is a classic science fiction, adventure novel, written in 1870 by French writer Jules Verne. The novel was first translated into English in the year 1873 by Reverend Lewis Page Mercier. 

    The book was highly acclaimed when it was published and remains so. It is regarded as one of the premier adventure novels and one of Verne’s greatest works, along with ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’

    In the book the description and detailing of Nemo’s ship—the Nautilus, is considered to be way ahead of its time, as it accurately describes innumerable features of a modern submarine, which at the time of writing this book were very primitive vessels.

    The title ‘twenty thousand leagues’ refers to the distance travelled while under the sea. 20,000 leagues (or 80,000 km) is nearly twice the circumference of the Earth. The greatest depth mentioned in the book is four leagues. The book uses metric leagues, which are four kilometres each.

    During the year 1866, ships of several nations spot a mysterious sea monster, which some suggest to be a giant narwhal. (A narwhal, or narwhale, is a medium sized, toothed whale that possesses a large ‘tusk’ from a protruding canine tooth). The United States government assembles an expedition in New York City to find and destroy the monster. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist and narrator of the story, who happens to be in New York at the time, receives a last-minute invitation to join the expedition, which he accepts. Canadian whaler and master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax’s faithful servant Conseil are also brought aboard.

    The expedition departs from 34th Street Pier in Manhattan aboard the United States Navy frigate Abraham Lincoln and travels south around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. After a long search, the ship finds the monster and then attacks the beast, which damages the ship’s rudder. The three protagonists are then hurled into the water when they get hold of the “hideout” of the creature, which they find, to their surprise, to be a submarine way far ahead of its era. They are forced to wait on the back of the submarine boat until morning when they are captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo.

    The rest of the story follows the adventures of the protagonists aboard the creature—the submarine, the Nautiluswhich was built in secrecy and now roams the seas free from any land-based government. Captain Nemo’s motivation is implied to be both a scientific thirst for knowledge and a desire for revenge upon (and self-imposed exile from) civilzation. Nemo explains that his submarine is electrically powered and can perform advanced marine biology research. He also tells his new passengers that although he appreciates conversing with such an expert as Aronnax, maintaining the secrecy of his existence requires never letting them leave. Aronnax and Conseil are enthralled by the undersea adventures, but Ned Land the harpoonist can only think of escape.

    They visit many places under the ocean, some real-world and others fictional. The travellers witness the real corals of the Red Sea, the wrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves, the Transatlantic telegraph cable and the legendary submerged land of Atlantis. The travelers also use diving suits to hunt sharks and other marine life with air-guns and have an underwater funeral for a crew member who died when an accident occurred under mysterious conditions inside the Nautilus. When the Nautilus returns to the Atlantic Ocean, a pack of “poulpes” (usually translated as a giant squid, although in French “poulpe” means “octopus”) attack the vessel and kill a crew member.

    Throughout the story Captain Nemo is suggested to have exiled himself from the world after an encounter with the forces that occupied his country that had devastating effects on his family. Not long after the incident of the poulpes, Nemo suddenly changes his behaviour toward Aronnax, avoiding him. Aronnax no longer feels the same and begins to sympathize with Ned Land. Near the end of the book, the Nautilus is attacked by a warship of some nation that had made Nemo suffer.

    Filled with hatred and revenge, Nemo ignores Aronnax’s pleas for mercy. Nemo—nicknamed “angel of hatred” by Aronnax—destroys the ship, ramming it just below the waterline, and consequently sinking it into the bottom of the sea, much to Aronnax’s horror, as he watches the ship plunge into the abyss. Nemo kneels before the pictures of his wife and children and is plunged into deep depression after this encounter. For several days after this, the situation of protagonists’ keeps changing.

    No one seems to be on board any longer and the Nautilus moves about randomly. Ned Land is even more depressed, Conseil fears for Ned’s life, and Aronnax, horrified at what Nemo had done to the ship, can no longer stand the situation either. One evening, Ned Land announces an opportunity to escape. Although Aronnax wants to leave Nemo, whom he now holds in horror, he still wishes to see him for one last time. But he knows that Nemo would never let him escape, so he avoids meeting him.

    Before the escape, however, he sees him one last time (although secretly), and hears him say, “Almighty God! Enough! Enough!” Aronnax immediately goes to his companions and they are ready to escape. But while they loosen the dinghy, they discover that Nautilus has wandered into the Moskenstraumen, a whirlpool more commonly known as the “Mael-strom”. They finally manage to escape and find refuge on a nearby island off the coast of Norway, but the fate of the Nautilus is unknown.

    It’s an excellent book to read. Even e-book is available quite cheap. So pick it up. The description and detailing especially done 150 years back is par-excellence. The author indeed was a genious.

    Novels are all about imagination. And I salute his imagination. I would give this novel eight out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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