There is a marked difference between the summer vacations of now and the good old 1990s. One can't help but feel nostalgic for a time when hot, sultry days were spent with a book. While Netflix and gaming might be on top of every kid’s mind these days, there is no reason why a really captivating book can’t get them to take their eyes off the screen for some time. One such engaging read is Journey to the Edge of the Earth, authored by Joeanna Rebello Fernandes and published by Penguin. While the title and theme carry a whiff of nautical tales from the past, this story of Commander Abhilash Tony is as real and contemporary as it can get.
This real-life tale traces the former officer’s quest for adventure and the lengths that he went to in order to achieve it. For instance, at the age of seventeen, he underwent a minor surgery to fix up his nose and also got his back re-examined—seemingly small inconveniences for a dream career in the Navy. Through the book, one finds that it was a chance encounter with a sail-maker as a child that set the tone for this quest. The book, targeted at middle-graders and young adults, follows the adventures of the former officer in the Indian Navy, who set off on a sea journey for 151 days, without setting foot on land during this mammoth nautical adventure. Part-biography and part-adventure, the book is also a window to life in the Indian Navy, and the exciting world of sailors.
“I wanted this story to be a window to a larger world of sailing and maritime adventure. I think knowledge about our coastal and fishing culture is quite limited among children, and this book is a great way to get that in as well,” says Fernandes. She has used factual details from Tony’s journey, which took place almost a decade back. Her skill, however, lies in weaving these nuggets into a vibrant tapestry of stories.
The prologue sets the tone for the magnitude of the adventure that the reader is about to encounter. The haunting image of the protagonist in his boat in the midst of a hurricane promises to be entrenched in the minds of the readers forever. But we know he has lived to tell this tale and this story of survival is likely to pique the reader's curiosity. A subtle sense of humour pervades the narrative and in spite of being packed with information, the book is a light read.
As the story builds up, I am intrigued by the psychological facets of the journey. What was it that motivated him to take on this Herculean task in the first place? What were the dangers that he faced? Was Tony ever scared as he faced, quite literally, troubled waters? What did he eat and how did he cook the food? Did he encounter any exotic creatures? And finally, what feelings did he harbour when he ended up becoming the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe unassisted? It’s to Fernandes’ credit that the book answers all of these questions as the reader navigates the story. Exquisite artwork by Missy Dunaway adds yet another layer of engagement.
Informative boxes about seafarers, ports, maritime myths and legends are scattered across the short, snappy chapters. For adults and young readers alike, this is a book that thrills, informs and inspires all at the same time.
Dhanishta Shah is a freelance writer and book reviewer, currently pursuing further studies in psychology