In the book of Genesis, we’re presented with stories of how the world was created as well as the experiences of the first human beings. One of the most terrifying episodes is that of the Great Flood. God, sickened by the sins of humanity, commands Noah to create an ark and collect a male and female of each animal. As the world is cleansed from depravity through a terrible flood, only those in the ark are supposed to survive. Personally, I don’t follow these religious doctrines, but I’ve always been interested in understanding these texts as holders of our humanity. Whether you believe in what the book preaches or not, you can’t deny that it deals with many of our primal attitudes. The Great Flood episode, besides Noah's story, is meant to educate people about the consequences of our greed and selfishness.
Throughout history we’ve proven that one of our main motivations is our greed. No matter how hard we try to be good people, we all have a darkness inside that leads us to act according to our convenience. In that way, the sense of us destroying everything around us out of avarice has concerned humanity since ancient times. But this issue isn’t just about environmental consequences. It can relate to many of the world injustices throughout history. Because when some are determined to achieve what they want, they won’t care about the consequences or who gets on the way. With this in mind, here are five novels that deal with our primal and destructive nature:
Oil on Water - Helon Habila (2010)
The wife of a British executive of an oil company has been kidnapped near the Delta of the Nigerian river. Commissioned to find the white woman, two local journalists must embark on a journey across the polluted and devastated river. The novel centers on this search, but instead of shedding light on the whereabouts of the woman, these men will understand the dark and vicious truth of oil industry. It’s a story that exposes how companies and governments are colluded in filthy businesses only to follow their goals with absolute disregard for anything and anyone.
Men of Men - Wilbur Smith (2006)
We’ve been witnesses of how diamonds are extracted and the set of injustices the process carries around, and yet, it’s a business that’s still going on and in the same conditions. Set in the late nineteenth century, the novel tells the story of Zouga Ballantyne, an Englishman born in Africa who decides to buy a diamond mine as a way to become rich. His two sons, Ralph and Jordan, share their father’s determination, and soon each of the three Ballantyne men will be responsible for the massacre and destruction of the Matabele Tribe. Instead of showing us the horrors of these colonialist practices from the perspective of the colonized, the novel shows us directly the greediness of the invaders, who won’t take a step back when achieving their goals.
Boys without Names - Kashmira Sheth (2010)
Set in the noisy and crowded city of Mumbai, Boys without Names tells the story of Gopal, a young boy whose family moved to the city looking for better opportunities. Realizing that the economic situation of his family is precarious, young Gopal decides to look for a job to help his parents. However, his eagerness pushes him to the claws of a stranger that offers him a job at a factory. You can imagine where this is going. The novel explores the illegal business of child trafficking and labor. Obviously, there’s no such thing as a factory. Gopal becomes a prisoner together with other five boys who are forced to manufacture frames. The man forbids the boys to talk or even mention their names, but within isolation, they’ll realize that talking about themselves and their lives is the only way to overcome the situation and try to find a way out as a team.
Orphan Number 8 - Kim van Alkemade (2015)
Another devastating evidence of what humans are determined to do (that is actually the idea of evil for a greater good) is the horrific experimentation and torture in the name of science. In this novel, van Alkemade tells the story of Rachel, a young orphan who is separated from her brother and sent to a Jewish orphanage. The place is run by Dr. Mildred Solomon, a ruthless doctor conducting a medical research on the children. After years of torture and experiments that leave her disfigured, Rachel manages to run away from that hellish place and tries to find her brother. Years later, she becomes a nurse, and while working at a hospital, she meets again with that despicable doctor, who is now very ill and about to die. Rachel will have to meditate on what are her priorities: her moral vow to the profession or seeking revenge.