Golden Submarine begins with a nostalgia-inducing, and intriguingly short, note from the last moments of a world now gone. You can almost sense the darkness fade away into memory, destined to lurk in the background and wait for its inevitable retrieval. But before the little spark can sink in, we are greeted by a group of youngsters in contemporary time - in a distant future “after the great flood” - and in the midst of a hunt for treasures that lost land holds.
The tone hangs upon suspicion the very existence of a flooded Atlantis v2.0. In doing so, it wonderfully reminds us how naive we must sound every time we put to doubt the stories of old and pass them off as mere myths and legends just because we did not see it happen, as if the world began only when we were born.
So Golden Submarine must then be a treasure hunt, an adventure tale, right? Wrong. That it is, but only in principle. Francene & Edith bear no pretence about how they want this story told and what they wish for us to focus on. To them, the otherwise supremely exciting and tried-and-tested formula of a historic mission, a la the destruction of rings or reforging of kingdoms, is a mere bystander - a backdrop to bring forth what is truly important - the human condition. Hardly ever are tales of adventure told with such abandon for that journey itself, in the face of subtle emotions. So the more commonplace focus on lost treasure, stormy seas and bravado, as has been seen over the long years of fictional writing, give way to descriptive expressions of love, sexuality and a very contemporary set of reactions as one may expect from a bunch of youngsters.
There’s a strong undertone of simile throughout the narration. That appears to be the authors’ style. They accept and give due credit to the reality that plays itself out in our minds - that whimsical place of thoughts and feelings where we inevitable reside at all times even in the most dreadful or demanding situations. So no, this is not an elaborate costume-draped archaic or futuristic agenda for the greater good. This is a very contemporary and real retention of playful and often conflicting approach to life as the protagonists go about their search.
There are secret boy fantasies, a woman’s urge to be the dominant beauty, fickle attempts at revenge, innocuous bouts of jealousy, the resultant inevitable strategies of love, loud moans of sexual pleasure, and of course, scheming betrayal among others - all en route to the by-now trivial destination of a lost land and its precious jewellery.
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As Bernard Foong says about his induction into a secret sexual society as a young boy, it was not slavery. Instead it was a lavish experience that made Young the man he became - of which gentleness and humility are both a part. As he quotes the word of Jesus of Nazareth, let alone those who are unblemished cast the first stone at the the sinner. It leaves us with one question, “What is sin?”
When a university prices itself permanently out of reach of most aspiring candidates, is that sin? Or is paying for the tuition with money earned in a flesh trade the real sin? Is sin, then, simply a matter of good marketing and effective social integration - those that make it and hide all else can have a dignity while the rest must bow down for not having followed an invisible book established in our minds, and changing from century to century? Or can there be some degree of allowance and patience we can afford towards someone who is trying to speak his heart out? For he has not killed, nor has he intended to hurt anyone. And that’s more than most of us can say of the famed Kings and warriors of old with causes deemed more noble. That’s more than most of us can say for ourselves.
Young addresses himself as a sissy boy very early in the story, for he does not subscribe to traditional male roles. If sissy implies a drift from manliness in its generic version, then perhaps Young stands corrected. After all, to face, accept and be at peace with a life such as his requires strength. That’s far cry from any form of sissiness. For, to be a man requires not a constant expression of being strict - that is often used as a show designed to justify one’s manliness when his inner character and its insecurities cannot. No, to be a man is to harbour the strength it takes to endure, to comply with what’s required, and to face facts - a judgement that cannot and should not get influenced by what other men believe.
“Initiation” is filled with moments - most of which you have to read to believe - that I find myself in a great degree of disagreement with, starting with the very existence of sexual clubs run by a society that otherwise thwarts it in principle. As the author notes, “This game, played behind closed doors by the rich and the powerful, is as old as time. Many believe it has become extinct, but it will always be there, morphing to accommodate or avoid the standards of the day, sometimes going underground.” The protagonist joins it willingly and for the most part, happily treads as far as it takes him. But how many schools and how many such secret societies around the world can guarantee that about the recruited? Perhaps jokes apart, I am simply not open-minded enough to be comfortable around expressions of homosexuality. That, however, is not a pre-requisite to respect and grasp the lesson Young is trying to deliver. For, there is one aspect of this book that cannot be denied - it makes peace where most fail to.
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