“There was once a man who believed he owned everything and set out to survey what was his.”
The first line of Oliver Jeffers’ new book gives you a hint that something important is going to unfold. The man, Fausto, is introduced through an illustration, and as a reader you know immediately that this man is not pleasant. He is standing with his arms closed and has an aura of arrogance. As the story progresses, pompous and aggressive Fausto claims the flowers, animals and tress around him as his own. But he is not satisfied. He goes on to claim a field, forest and a lake. When he sees resistance he puts up a fight till the lake and the mountain give in and bow down to him.
“Feeling very important, Fausto easily conquered a boat to set off to sea. For a mountain, a lake, a forest, a field, a tree, a sheep and a flower were not enough for him.”
Fausto is a man of our times and represents all who are never satisfied with what we have and aspire for more. Because I read the book for the first time with my six-year-old daughter, I was wondering if she was getting the subtext. It’s a tale full of suggestions, with clever use of white space to pause and ponder. As a reader, I was feeling a little disconcerted because I was also Fausto in many ways. Clearly the future cannot be good for Fausto and for all of us, I thought.
The bully Fausto confidently sets out to claim the sea, but is out of his depth. The sea dialogues with him, tries to make him see that love and understanding come before ownership. But like all of humankind, Fausto is blinded by what he wants, and does not care much about anyone else. At the end the sea claims him. Life goes back to normal and his fate does not matter.
I paused for a few seconds after completing the book and asked my daughter, “Well, what do you think?”
“He is greedy mama. He wants everything,” said Lara. And just like that we got into a discussion.
As is his style, the simple text and sparse illustrations by Jeffers manage to convey critical issues that plague us today. But he does so in a gentle manner that children are able to grasp easily. The illustrations are limited to strong strokes of brown and shades of blue, with blobs of yellow but evocatively express the mood. When Fausto talks to the mountain and conquers it, Jeffers uses perspective to show the different moods of the mountain. Similarly when he is at sea, we can feel his smallness in the vast expanse of blue.
The Fate of Fausto is a book you can go back to again and again. Each time it will give you new perspective and force you to introspect. The picture book can be used with middle school children as well, for the theme is relevant and pushes us to contemplate on our future and how to make it matter.
The Fate of Fausto
Written & Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: Harper Collins