The World According to Anna - Jostein Gaardner

Well, twenty years later and I've still never finished Sophie's World (keep meaning to go back to it) and I haven't kept up with Jostein Gaardner's work in the meantime, but the concept of the author's latest book to be translated into English is still a familiar one. The protagonist of The World According to Anna is again a young girl who receives mysterious messages of grave importance to the world we live in. It's not the history of philosophy this time written for a young reader, but the future of the world itself that Anna is concerned about. Specifically, global warming and the consequences it is going to have in the future. And maybe a little bit of philosophy in there too.

It could be very preachy, but Gaardner does his best to make The World According to Anna a little more novelistic and interesting. The idea that these messages are being sent to Anna from her great-granddaughter in the future is a good science fiction device, particularly as it is based very much on extending our view of the now towards real world consequences. Having a 16 year old girl receive these messages is also a meaningful choice for a protagonist/activist. There is certainly a growing awareness and acceptance within the older generation in the present day of the threat of global warming, but so far we've been much too slow to actually do anything about it. The younger generation are a better target audience for the message Anna has for the world, more alert to the dangers that will directly affect them, more open to new ways of thinking of ways that will effectively deal with the issues. If it isn't already too late to do anything about it.

There's a lot of facts, statistics and figures thrown around here, which is important, but the author knows that a few other simple images and devices can have an even greater impact. Watch a David Attenborough documentary, for example he suggests, and imagine that every wonderful creature you see in it disappearing. No more of the glorious colour, variety, beauty and majesty of life in all it forms. Gone forever, at least in the wild. You don't need to be psychic to see that this is the inevitable consequence of global warming and climate change. Although the messages that Anna receives from her granddaughter Nova in 2082 are terrifying, you can already see it today in the growing list of endangered and extinct species, and Anna makes note of the depressing progress of those statistics as they stand in the present day.

There are several other narrative tricks that Gaardner uses to connect the present to the future - a ruby ring, 1001 Arabian Nights, "Green Machines" - and even some character interest created in Anna's relationships to her boyfriend Jonas and her psychiatrist Dr Benjamin in Oslo. The World According to Anna can still sound rather preachy, but perhaps only if you are speaking to the converted or the cynical who believe that the world leaders are never going to be able to change anything. It could also be accused of being idealistic, but Gaardner, through Anna, grapples with the moral question simply and effectively. ("I think it's immoral to be a pessimist. [...] Pessimism is just another word for laziness"). To a younger generation, Gaardner's short novel could indeed be a much needed and powerful wake-up call to find real and practical solutions to an issue of the utmost importance that is becoming more and more pressing by the day.

The World According to Anna is published by W&N on 12th November 2015.

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