Back when I was planning what books to read and in what order, I skimmed some of the reviews for Alas, Babylon. I was surprised to see that SO MANY people reread this book every year. I figured they were exaggerating. Why would one do such a thing when there are so many books to read and so little time?
But I get it now. I get why this book is one to reread. I think it’s possible to take away something new every time you read it. The subtleties are abundant.
Thus far, out of all the books listed here, Alas, Babylon sits comfortably among my top three. It is such a captivating story. Every character exists, all are believable. They are all flawed. And they are all perfect because of those flaws. What I found truly remarkable about this book, however, was that it was written in 1959 and still stands up today. It is timeless.
I was also surprised by how hopeful this book made me feel, and how positive it is. I know that seems a little unbelievable. How can a book where millions of people die due to a massive nuclear war between Russian and the United States end up leaving a person feeling hopeful? But it did. Life went on in the most subtle and sometimes beautiful manner.
Alas, Babylon brought me back to my sophomore existentialism class. I hated my sophomore existentialism class. I was so excited going into it, and it just failed miserably at giving me the rich thoughtfulness I so much desired. The books we read fell into the cliché category. The topics we discussed became a bore. I never experienced any enlightenment. I never left chewing on any new thoughts. It was just blah, which is kind of ironic actually.
However, during that same semester, I also enrolled in a literature course taught by a woman in her 70s. She brought a Yorkshire terrier to class with her every single day. She wore the most elaborate and colorful outfits—long shawls and flowing scarves—and moved around the room like one of those unique deep sea creatures. She taught with her entire body. Her jewelry clanged and jingled as she moved. She was so full of life! And she went on the most spectacular tangents about the books and poems we read. Class discussions were so much fun—never a dull moment—and when class ended you felt as though you UNDERSTOOD something momentous. New ideas shot out of the back of your mind like paint pellets, coating the inside of your head like a Jackson Pollock painting.
That was the class where I learned the most about existentialism. Life stands in the most glorious, clear, and beautiful manner when it appears to be over. Everything is amplified and crisp and cherished when you’re not given the guarantee of a tomorrow. Suspended from fear, hovering within a now.
What a necessary and important concept. And Alas, Babylon touched upon that once more.
Sometimes, amidst death and destruction, compassion and appreciation swell. People start to pay attention to what matters most.
When a forest is burned to the ground, new growth often flourishes.
Alas, Babylon, a book about nuclear war, turned out to be one of the more positive books I’ve ever read.