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The synopsis printed on the back cover of Richard Bachs “Illusions” reads thus: “Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: “If you're alive, it isn't.” What an interesting little parable this is! The subject matter is stratospherically vast, the philosophy is deep, and the concept is incredible! This composition is truly a masterpiece. Imagine, a messiah who decides to quit the job, and does so! Sounds like a slapstick comedy (particularly since he carries a Messiah’s Handbook), as if it might have come from Terry Prachett or his ilk; but no, this is serious! “Illusions” is an undemanding and effortless read about two pilots who offer short rides in biplanes to country folk in small towns and villages in which they land, before moving on to the next small community. Two pilots whose lives entwine and their experience leaves each changed forever. The other characters are few and, to some extent, incidental – like subsidiary apparitions only present to help the story develop. The central plot revolves around the relationship between Richard and Donald, and the wisdom passed from one to the other. Bach’s literary skills lie somewhere between Paulo Coelho and Antoine St-Exupery. The language, like the storyline, is incredibly simple and flows beautifully; even when at many points Bach defies the usual conventions of grammar and language. In addition, we are not bogged down by unnecessary description and extensive verbiage; Bach gets straight to the point. And the point is this: we all have a different “illusion” of life, our perceptions of things vary accordingly, and we all have the ability to be a messiah. “A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed, it feels an impulsion....this is the place to go now. “But
the sky knows the reason and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.” No sermons or morally biased views, and no references to God or religion. Simplicity! This is the key to “Illusions”; and, it seems, to life itself – at least according to Bach. Imagine things how you would like them to be, picture it done, and it is done. We are also reminded of the how the extent of our knowledge, and thus our wisdom and associated actions, is limited only by how we deem things to be just or unjust. This is somewhat reminiscent of Taoist and/or Buddhist philosophy, although Bach cites neither. In his own words: “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. “What the catepillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” “Illusions” is food for thought and provokes many different emotions. However, some believe it to be nothing more idealistic twaddle, and I think this may be because they read it at face value. If you try to go deeper into its message, you will find “Illusions” to be astonishingly revealing, many readers are deeply touched and have re-read the novella a number of times. There is something for everyone here. The point at which we find “Illusions” to be complete (even before the story has ended) is when Richard opens the Messiah’s Handbook to find a perplexing yet strangely obvious phrase. This encapsulates what the story is really all about, and all the philosophy within leads to this single point – perhaps the most poignant of Bach’s axioms: “Everything above may be wrong!” This is where we learn perhaps the most important lesson Bach offers – as the inscription at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi reads (not in “Illusions”): ̶
0;Nosce te ipsum.” (“Know thyself”) There is no truth greater than this. Buy “Illusions” and learn for yourself.
I love books, I hoard them, collect them, cover all my walls with shelves and shelves of them. But if I had to choose just one, a real 'desert island' choice, then this would, without a glimmer of doubt, be it. It's an unassuming little book, shiny black with a blue feather on the front. A slim, unassuming-looking little tome. Don't be fooled though, this is a book with the power to change lives! Not that this preaches, far from it, the reader is left to take this at whatever level they wish. Bach tells a simple little tale of hopping plane rides around the countryside and meeting with a man who he discovers, is, in so many ways, another form, a possible future version, of himself. His companion, Donald, has with him a Messiah's Handbook, and it is in this handbook that some real feel-good, thought-provoking and potentially revelatory little messages are contained. The narrative takes us through their time together and the profound, amusing, tear-jerking and totally illuminating conversations they have together. There's nothing difficult to understand here, certainly in terms of language or accessibilty, yet the ideas and sentiments can provide food for a lifetime's thought and contemplation. I've heard it said the messages her are trite, maybe so, if you take them that way. This is one of my favourites: "Every person, all the events in your life are there because you have drawn them there What you choose to do with them is up to you" Or how about: "There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands You seek problems because you need their gifts" While this is, I believe, a fantastic book for anybody, it often has a special place in the hearts of those who don't fit in, those who feel rejected, those who are going through tough times. I have read this, literally, hundreds of
times, and it's something I always go back to when life kicks me in the teeth, not least because there's something very empowering in the narrative as a whole, as well as those messages from the handbook. I leave you with another message from the book, which I wrote on my testimonial to my best friend who was killed in a care crash: "Don't be dismayed at good-byes A farewell is necessary before you can meet again And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes Is certain for those who are Friends"
If you aren't familiar with the works of Richard Bach you may find this book bizarre but strangely compelling. Bach is kind of like the Kahlil Gibran of the eighties ( if you don't know who Kahlil Gibran is..well, how about Antoine St-Exupery's - The Little Prince- if that doesn't ring any bells , I'm running out of analogies.). Illusions is a life affirming statement, part inspirational, part poetic but always fulfilling. The narrator is a barnstorming pilot who meets a mysterious stranger. The latter offers the former a 'diary' of sorts, a book that he can be open at any time to find something relevant in the pages..it does not have page numbers. A mystical, gentle, thought provoking book it can be read wholly or bit by bit. Somethign you could have on your bedside cabinet. It has a huge cult following and I would highly recommend it to anyone who feels a bit down in the dumps. It is the kind of book that gets people talking, give it to someone you love and pass it to friends, it builds more bridges than greeting cards! An uplifting little book. It is handsomely designed. It never gets preachy or superior, often the drawback of other 'inspirational' efforts. It may well form a companion piece to Bachs other famous book, 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull'.