Book Review – Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths


Jay Griffiths’ book Wild first caught my attention in my local library, where it sat crookedly out of place on a stack of books completely unrelated to its topic. I was curious to what kind of book one would be which was titled ‘Wild’. Underneath the title, ‘An Elemental Journey’ sat unhelpfully adding to my curiosity….

Wild is about Griffiths’ travel over the world visiting and staying with the indigenous communities that try so desperately to survive in their own right. She separates the book into the elements of the Earth: Earth (Amazonian tribes in Peru), Ice (Inuit in the Arctic), Water (Bajo people off Sulawesi), Fire (Aboriginals in Australia), and Air (West Papuans), giving each culture their own elemental piece of life.

Griffiths journey through the native lands of these people is intoxicatingly full of excitement, wonder, and awe. She skillfully combats the natural beauty and way of life these people have been accustomed to living in with the outright horrible injustices these communities face through the forced attempts of westernization, religion, and control. Griffith has a special talent in which you can easily recall the face of the elder and the wrinkles around his eyes when he tells his story to you, as easily as you can frightfully remember the atrocious descriptions of aboriginals tied together and having their heads hacked off and thrown into piles.

Unlike other travel memoirs, this novel has a strong mission to not only share the cultures of the world, but also advocate for them. Griffith makes it a point to remind the reader again and again that the abuse they feel is real and raw. These facts are not only uncommonly known, but also incredibly hard to come by. Griffiths condemns society for their materialistic, off-track aspirations and barbaric tendencies to abuse those who think differently than us. She speaks about how we non-indigenous people view a ‘wasteland’ and flips a mirror on our own beliefs, “But time in a wasteland is trapped in schedule, tethered by routine, enclosed with deadlines. In the wasteland of tragedy, time follows rules, straight as a ruler, ruling the lives of human rulers.” We cannot ‘see’ what these people see because they have generations of experience with these things, for example the empty abyss of a dessert means nothing to us, except perhaps boring death, whereas aboriginals can navigate, thrive, and live knowing the secrets of what the earth and creatures of the earth show us.

One thing you should get leaving this novel is the knowledge that destroying these people’s traditions, land, isolating them and forcing rules upon their culture (no singing traditional songs, forced to wear certain clothes, use money to buy things that ruin them) put these people in neither their own culture nor our own westernized one. The incidences of suicide, depression, and alcoholism are high among these groups. The sad fact is they are fighting for their own independence and right to live the way their people have lived for hundreds of years, and losing. But such is the story of our species.

While her first hand experiences are incredibly enlightening, often times she rambles off to reference everything under the sun. Griffith can take you through a beautiful forest, live with creatures, colors, and sounds in your own mind, and on the next page slam you against a wall and beat the shit out of you with floods  of etymology, history references, examples, snippets of quotes, worldwide ties, and other over the top distractions that deeply take away from her book. The first encounter of this ‘word-attack’ (in which I honestly felt attacked by her paragraphs of words that were unhelpful, overwhelming, and honestly unwanted) I was quiet impressed and enjoyed it, however, I did not expect it to continue every few chapters throughout the book. I often got quickly fed up when another chunk of this word vomit came up in writing, requiring a break and time apart from the book for several days due to frustration. My advise is to skimp and/or speed read over these annoying road bumps throughout the novel.

I applaud Griffith for her incredibly brave mission to visit these remote areas and truly share their story. You can feel the passion Griffith has for each culture. It is an excellent deed she did sharing their hard troubles to the rest of the world. The people you meet through her story get unconsciously adopted as part of your family. Her journeys are all completely unique, terrible and beautiful. Griffith is an excellent writer, although in my opinion, she polluted her own work with too much outside text. Regardless, the novel is an excellent one and I think it would be a shame to completely skip over this book and the unique strong stories she shares. My advice is to find a copy and do not fear skim reading the text when the word flood occurs. I would rate this novel a 3.5/5, because I am an easily frustrated person 🙂 (if word vomit wasn’t there, 5/5).

Published by Penguin Books, £9.99

What is your favorite travel novel? Comment below!


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