When offered a chance to read Gary Anderson’s Best of All Possible Worlds, I’ll admit to having some cautious skepticism, something along the lines of: Tell me more (actually, exactly along that line). After checking out the synopsis, I realized that to do the book and the author any justice, it was going to require my rereading Candide—something I wasn’t exactly excited about doing. I accepted the opportunity and set about contriving excuses for my inevitable disappointment.
I dutifully reread Candide. What’s this? It wasn’t nearly what I remembered. In fact, I rather liked it. The Candide of my youth, wasn’t the Candide of my adulthood. It’s satire, sarcasm, and religious skepticism spoke to me in ways that my more youthful reading couldn’t appreciate. Good for me, but…I still had BoAPW to read, and it’s larger, the text is more densely packed, it’s going to require more effort, more thought. You can do this, I cautiously convinced myself. Not exactly the best way to begin a book, but we’re readers, we always hope for the best.
So I got started, reluctant, somewhat cynical, and then…then…I couldn’t stop reading. I was caught up. Immediately. Anderson had taken an incidental character from Candide and created this incredible world for him to inhabit—and all just to entertain me. (Not exactly, of course, but it felt that way.) Jacques the Anabaptist, now Jakob the Anabaptist, has his own rich story to tell—the story of his Dutch family (seafaring Father, cynical Mother, evil Brother, and vision-inducing Grandmother [his oma with her ‘incredible aars] ), his great love, not to be confused with his fiancée, plus a village full of other characters—including Pangloss and Candide—in the humorous spirit of Candide, with their own personalities, foibles, religious intolerances and superstitions, through journal entries, letters, straightforward narrative, and as a bonus, especially if you’ve read one of the footnoted classic editions of Candide, scores of footnotes that mimic those classic editions. Told at a furious pace, with bawdiness and biting, biting humor. A grand, great time worthy of yours.