S H B Shuvro
The novel ‘Five weeks in a balloon’ first published in 1863 is the most exquisite and commercially successful oeuvre of the celebrated French novelists Jules Verne. This book is a must read for those who are either interested in the birth of science fiction, or those who love to be indulged into the dark heart of pre-colonial Africa. The classical narrative of ‘Five weeks in a balloon’ bears the testimony of Verne’s idiosyncratic storytelling expertise. Through Jules Verne’s masterful storytelling, this book spreads a charming inclination of imagination in the minds of readers. If readers want to have a ride on a balloon over the ferocious and untouched wilderness of Africa and fall on an unknown, remote island thousands of miles away from home, they will find this book thrilling enough. Moreover, the narrative plunges the readers into the motion of the story. In a broader interpretation the notion of this novel blends skepticism and optimism with blazing realism.
The storyline of ‘Five weeks in a balloon’ cogently amalgams science with nature and adventure. Also the story renders such an obvious infectious vitality which has been implicitly tangled with the mind of the readers and adventure lovers for more than 150 years. Being a diehard fan of Jules Verne, it is really exhilarating to write a review on his book more than after 150 years of publication.
The travelers in ‘Five weeks in a balloon’ explore a real place, Africa, rather than the imaginary underground realm of Journey to the center of the earth. The travelers invented a real technology, the lighter-than-air balloon, rather than the imaginary submarine-cum-luxury-cruiser of ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues’ or the gigantic cannon of ‘From the Earth to the Moon’. ‘Five weeks in a balloon’ was the first novel which would become the author’s ‘Extraordinary Voyages’ series. It tells the tale of a 4,000-mile balloon trip over the mysterious continent of Africa, a trip that wouldn’t actually take place until well into the next century. Mingling adventure, comedy, and science fiction, five weeks has all the key ingredients of classic Verne: innovative scientific invention, crafty humor and a tangled plot that is full of suspense and surprise, and visions of an unknown realm.
The book also functions in part as a history of the exploration of Africa. Verne gives detailed descriptions of the extent of the various expeditions into Africa, including who they were made by, where they reached, and various ways in which the explorers died, usually in an unpleasant manner at the hands of either angry natives or nasty diseases. These tales serve to place the story in history in a believable fashion, and also to remind the reader that the outcome of the journey is far from certain, lending the tribulations the adventurers undergo an air of genuine danger.
The narrative of this book is highly episodic, but this partially helps to drive the story forwards and adds to the sense of discovery, as if one is actually joining the three friends in their balloon. The balloon itself ultimately fails before the end, but makes it far enough across to get the protagonists to friendly lands, and eventually back to England, therefore succeeding in the expedition. The story abruptly ends after the African trip, with only a brief synopsis of what follows.
A few criticisms could be made regarding Verne’s grasp of the science of hydrogen balloons, but that would be missing the point of what is essentially a rollicking adventure novel suffused with the spirit of the age of reason.
S H B Shuvro works at Bangladesh Post