By Erich Segal
I guess he just didn’t know how to be happy.
That is the one thing they can’t teach you at Harvard.
It must have been almost 8-10 years back when I first read this powerful book, and it marked a sudden change in my tastes as a reader. I had finally grown beyond young fiction, and was ready for literature of higher quality and greater depth.
Of course, my parents didn’t quite believe I was ready, and hence, this period of my life involved a considerable amount of stealing from Dad’s book shelves.
However, this does not really mean that I was over fantasy and magic and dragons and swords, just yet. I hadn’t even read The Deathly Hallows, by then…
The Class narrates the story of 5 young men, all coming from different backgrounds to converge as members of Harvard class of 1958.
The entire story can be broadly divided into four major parts:
- Introduction, wherein the protagonists are all introduced, and the circumstances that lead to their arrival at Harvard.
- Harvard, from their arrival up to their graduation.
- Real Life, which begins at their graduation, leading up to their 25th Reunion.
- Reunion, which the author describes as “the beginning to the end”.
And, what makes this book so enjoyable is the subtle but effective changes in the mood, within the parts, and from one part to another, which truly enables the reader to experience every emotion the characters exhibit, and every change that occurs in their lives.
The 5 parallel narratives run seamlessly together, only to occasionally converge and diverge. That method of storytelling probably made a deep impact on me, both as a reader, and as a writer.
The strong themes of love, success, happiness, and faith, that prevail throughout the book are still relevant to the reader of this day and age.
However, there are two very specific things that set it apart from all the other, similar novels.
Firstly, the way the second part of the book is written really brings Harvard to life. From the passages by older alumni, to the the architecture of the many Halls, the details of the various curricula, and the many nuanced details of student life in Harvard.
Of the many books I have read, only J.K. Rowling, Sidney Sheldon and Enid Blyton have written works comparable to this one, regarding this one aspect.
Of course, as the author himself was a member of Harvard class of ’58, some of the observations and incidents may have been semi-autobiographical, but that is not necessarily sufficient for creating a setting of this quality.
After all, I have read books by some Indian authors who have tried to emulate that, more often than once, only to fail miserably.
And secondly, the way this book seamlessly incorporates the lives of these fictional characters with real historical incidents is what makes it all the more real. As many would know, the 1950-1980 period was not the most peaceful for America in particular, and the entire world in general.
The consequences of the Korean War, and the strain caused by the Vietnam War, both feature in the story, as a major plotline revolves around Henry Kissinger and the Nixon administration.
Of course, those are in the distant past, but the more recent occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq prove the US has no intent to stop fighting wars that do not concern them… Let us see how that works out for them…
Other plotlines explore the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and several wars fought by the Israeli army during the period.
The book also, apparently, features several popular figures from the American music industry, but my knowledge of that field is quite limited, and I probably missed most of those references…
The one thing that did happen, as a consequence of having read this book, was that my tolerance for the filth that prevailed in Indian bestseller lists for a large part of the previous decade was complete annihilated.
At least this decade has shown more promise, so I do have some hopes…
Now, to whom would I suggest this book? Well, everybody who has the maturity to understand a book of immense depth and scope can find it here:
Fair Warning: It is lengthy, and heavy. Give it the time it deserves.
That is all for tonight.