The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is one of my new favourite books of all time.
I was completely hooked from the beginning to the end by the story, the characters, the setting and the nail biting tension that made me grip the book so hard that my knuckles turned white.
The Chrysalids, written in 1955, is a dystopian books set in a post apocalyptic future where vast tracks of the earth have become inhabitable because of what we assume has been a nuclear disaster. The protagonist, David Strom, live in an isolated agricultural society where no one really knows that happened to wipe out the 'Old People' who built cities and machines but who were unable to save themselves from disaster. There is one religion in this future, a fundamentalist Christian religion where people consider anything outside of the norm to be a 'Deviation', an un-God-like perversion of what is considered normal and therefore acceptable. Anything, be it animal, plant or person that is considered a Deviation is destroyed. Children who are considered Deviations are killed at birth, and those whose abnormalities are not apparent until later in life are sterilised and sent to love on 'The Fringes'. It is a dark and somewhat depressing view of the future, and yet there are clear similarities between this future and our present.
David Strom is a Deviant – born with telepathic powers he uses to communicate with other people within his community who have a similar abnormality. They understand that their abnormality places them at great risk and they are able to hide it until the birth of David's younger sister Petra, born with the same abnormality, puts them all at risk.
David, Petra and the other's with telepathic abilities find themselves racing across the country to avoid capture and are only able to do so when they are discovered by a far away community of people from Sealand (New Zealand?) who travel across the globe in order to rescue them.
There is so much to say about The Chrysalids that I barely know where to begin. In relation to the story itself, Wyndham has portrayed an entirely plausible possible future for mankind, based on the weakness of mankind in the present. In addition, the plot itself is entirely captivating. Putting the book down was like ripping myself out of one world only to find myself back here where I belong. The characters were fully realised and unique, the landscape was vividly described and the tension Wyndham created was palpable.
It's when you get underneath these wonderful qualities to consider what the book is really trying to say about society that you really realise just how timeless The Chrysalids really is. In it, Wyndham really goes deep into subjects such as religious fundamentalism, prejudice, intolerance, self-identity and fear and condemnation of the 'other'.
In The Chrysalids, Wyndham asks those questions most ask at some stage; who am I, who decides what the norm is and how do they decide and where do I belong?
In the end, it was this theme of intolerance and bigotry that I found the most fascinating and the most applicable to today. Wyndham effectively reminds us that behaviours such as intolerance, prejudice and racism are rarely as black and white as they seem. Although to the reader the people of David's town are religious fundamentalists, creating 'others' and destroying them as they see fit, the reader cannot help but ask themself how different the Sealanders are for all of their noble ideals. Everyone has a different perspective and view point on life and what being a 'good' person entails – how do we decide what perspective is right and which is wrong?