I finished Maya yesterday afternoon, and it is still in my mind. I had some time to reflect upon this fascinating, playful and imagitive philosophical novel and think twice about the big ideas that Jostein Gaarder addresses in this book.
At the Maravu Plantation resort, a group of people discover they have shared interests. In their meetings they address some of the big ideas. Evolution of the life on earth, creation of the universe, the nature of consciousness, the purpose of human existence, life and death.
Their stories are intertwined, reality is enmeshed with fantasy, and as the story progresses and moves from Fiji to Spain it becomes more excited and complicated.
The final interpretation is provided by an English author, the second narrator in the story. Slowly, he unrolls the skein of mystery by showing that there are “extraordinary coincidences” ……. that “periodically foster the hope the secret powers really do watch over our lives, and occasionally tweak the stings of destiny”.
To me, the most important question asked in the book is that of eternity.
Then I stood my lighter on the table and whispered, ‘That is a magic lighter. If you light it now, you will live for ever.’
‘Do you want a normal lifespan? Or do you want to remain here on earth for all eternity?’
‘But think carefully,’ I stressed. ‘This one chance is all you get, and your decision can never be revoked.’
Slowly but deliberately, Frank picked up the lighter and lit it.
I was impressed. ‘There aren’t many of us,’ I remarked.
‘No, not many, certainly,’ he conceded.
‘Though as far as I am concerned,’ says John, ‘there are really two types of people. One category, the vast majority, is made up of those who are content to live seventy or eighty or ninety years. The reasons given for this are various. Some point out that after eighty or ninety years they would have had a long and eventful life and, by then, they’d be looking forward to belly up and dying full of years………… There are those – possibly the largest sub-group- who, if things were so arranged that they could inhabit the planet for hundreds or thousands of years, would find it awful to contemplate. Well, fair enough! Good, and perfectly in harmony with nature.
But there is a completely different caste of people: a small number of individuals who want to live for ever. They suffer from being unable to grasp how a world can continue after they’ve gone.
What would you do? Would you light the magic lighter? Do you want to live for ever. But, be careful of what will you answer.
Through his narrator, Gaarder notes that,
‘it’s not always those who relish life the most who are the least willing to renounce it. Quite the opposite: those who enjoy themselves most often show scant regard for the fact that life will end one day. This may seem a paradox, but on closer inspection it isn’t. People who refuse to surrender to life’s finality already find themselves in a no-man’s land. They realize they’ll soon be completely gone, so they’re already half-gone.
They felt themselves oppressed by the grief that lack of existential spirit and permanence bring.