This week I reread a favourite of mine: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The story is simple: a father and his son travel through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Their aim: survive the winter. The danger: other people.
The Road is set in the future, in which the world as we know it is destroyed by a non-specified disaster. Humanity has almost become extinct, nature has suffered irreparable damage, and the remaining people try to stay alive as well as they can. For many that involves cruelty, murder, and even cannibalism, because food has become scarse.
The man and his son, however, are determined to keep “carrying the fire.” They only eat tinned food they find on their way and are able to keep going because of their love for each other. Now, this could have led to a horribly sentimental story. Except that it’s written by Cormac McCarthy. And the author of Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men, among others, is never sentimental.
What makes this book so powerful, apart from its frightening portrayal of a destroyed world where some remains of civilization still exist, is its style. It’s almost poetic, and it makes it difficult to put the book down. I usually start reading it, thinking I’ll finish it in a week or so, but always end up finishing it in one day. Because once it’s got you, it won’t let you go.
A final reason to read this book: it makes you think. Even though McCarthy does not specify what kind of disaster led to the destruction of the world, the world he describes looks eerily similar to Pripryat, the city which happened to be next to the Chernobyl nuclear plant. And we all know what happened there.
In fact, I stumbled upon this project by photographer Paul Fusco, who almost nine years after the disaster went back to take pictures of the survivors. Many of them suffered from severe health problems. But the most harrowing photos he made show children, many of them born years after the event, who live in almost inhuman conditions. They suffer from cancer, MS, and other diseases. Most of them are grotesquely deformed. Many are mentally disabled. And this is why The Road is such an important book: it shows us that what we take for granted can turn against us, and lead to devastating results.