Book Review

Making a positive change in the world

Making a positive change in the world

“Eleutheria” is the Greek word for “freedom.” It is also the reference name of an island in the Bahamas (Eleuthera). And it is the title and the setting for Allegra Hyde’s first novel (Vintage Books, 2022). 

In an amazingly well-written and engaging first effort, the author focuses on the global issue of climate change and takes us to the Bahamas and a place called Camp Hope where one Roy Adams has created a colony of activists to focus on and to attempt to right the wrongs of how global  warming is being handled by nations and corporations. A former high-ranking career military man and politically conservative, Adams has done a 360 and ended up becoming a dedicated eco-warrior whereas this planetary problem is concerned. As Hyde describes him: “Adams had written in “Living the Solution” about giving up his military career and his marriage as well. Such sacrifices, he explained, ‘were a small price to pay in the war against climate change, a war for humanity’s very survival.’” 

But Adams is not this book’s main character. Her name is Willa Marks. She has been raised by parents with paranoid conspiracy theories and who isolated themselves and Willa deep in the rural woods in the northeastern U.S. Having come of age, Willa frees herself from the imposed isolation of her parents and strikes out on her own. Finding Adams book “Living the Solution,” she is inspired and makes her way to the island of Eleutheria to be part of the team there that is trying to save the world from an environmental catastrophe. 

But this is only the beginning of the book. What takes place in the following 200-plus pages is the blow-by-blow saga of her journey and her experience with the Camp Hope crowd as well as her chance meeting and relationship with the renowned Harvard professor Sylvia Gill — who has the reputation and the academic and political connections to have a huge influence on the movement toward solving the climate change problem. And so back and forth we, the reader, go from Camp Hope to Cambridge, Massachusetts, as Willa tries to make her life meaningful and to put these two places, these two people and these two approaches together to make sense and to create necessary change. Or as Willa thinks to herself and as Hyde writes: “If the planet were ever attacked by extra-terrestrials, humanity would band together. True solidarity would occur. Camp Hope was a prototype. A nucleus. A revolution waiting to hatch. It modeled what could be: made progress into paradise, showed how environmental living could be desired rather than feared. I marveled at these modern pilgrims: environmental devotees who were among the best and the brightest people in the world. They were here on Eleutheria because they believed in Roy Adams’s commitment to reforming society by living it anew.”

By halfway through “Eleutheria” it is clear that Hyde’s book is not just an MFA exercize, but a true call to action by this young Y generation author who has thrown her hat into the ring to add to the efforts of others working on and trying to do their best to create change and to save the planet from climate chaos. But she does this with a flair and incredible maturity, as page after page this reader didn’t want to put the book down. As she writes further: 

“Heat, rising seas, forests clear-cut, methane .... Another march wouldn’t stop it all. Certainly not another petition. Legislation was too little too late. There were too many people with too much money tied up in the scrap-picking of Earth. Camp Hope offered the spark to move fast, to set the transition in motion. To do so globally, wholly. Because things can happen fast. An image or a song can spill through the minds of billions in a day, can infect those who hear the message. Camp Hope will move at the speed of a pandemic.” 

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Much of the second half of the book is devoted to Willa’s eventual friendship and working relationship with Sylvia Gill, whose mantra and motto seems to be “collective consciousness” with an emphasis on the beauty of the natural world while not ignoring the practical realities of the moment and societies “secret subtext” that “there was more than enough food to feed everyone and yet people went hungry; there was free furniture and clothing everywhere, yet people endlessly purchased new products; we wasted and wasted to keep spinning the wheels of an economy that benefited only a few.” 

Roy Adams responds to this subtext by initiating the idea of getting young high-school and college-aged students involved in the community at Camp Hope — a shout out to Greta Thunberg’s youth-powered climate change movement, “youth could be the kindling that set the global consciousness ablaze.” In her push to inspire, Hyde even mentions the rise of a third political party, the Green Republicans.

At a time when this country and the world needs some practical and consciousness-raising inspiration and leadership, the young Allegra Hyde has appeared on the literary scene with the talent and the vision to inspire not only her own generation into action, but those of us with the charge of the 1960s still coursing through our veins and looking for much-needed leaders and solutions. So, bravo Allegra Hyde for your vision and your willingness to take part and show us a sane and secure path into the future.

Thomas Crowe is a regular contributor to The Smoky Mountain News and author of the multi-award-winning non-fiction nature memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods. 

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