Lidia Yuknavitch’s latest novel is a dystopian reimagining of Joan of Arc. Set in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by radioactive fallout following several world wars. Survivors are white, sexless, hairless creatures who live as slaves under CIEL’s tyrannical rule; these creatures inscribe epic stories onto their skin. Other humans — the wealthy — have escaped and now hover safely above Earth. CIEL is headed by Jean de Men, a sadistic leader who rules with an iron fist.
Jean de Men is believed to have killed a child named Joan of Dirt, turning her into a martyr for a resistance that is brewing. Joan glows blue light and has a mystical relationship with the Earth; she has the power to destroy, but she also has the power to bring things back to life. In this new world, where everyone’s genitalia has basically shriveled up and fallen off, her powers have made her the stuff of legend. One of the sexless slaves, Christine Pizan (a nod to 12th-century proto-feminist author Christine de Pizan), is particularly enamored with Joan of Dirt’s story.
Earlier this year, I finally caved and signed up for Audible. I’d been eyeing the Claire Dane’s narration of The Handmaid’s Tale since before it was even available for purchase, and I was putting off reading anything by Margaret Atwood until I finally read what’s probably her most famous title. Well. It took me long enough, but I finally got my my introduction to Atwood/Claire Dane’s narration.
The book is set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead — America in the near future — where all of the former government officials have been killed off and a new totalitarian government has taken over. Women, once free to work and do as they pleased, are now living in a twisted theocracy. They all have roles in society, and the handmaid’s role, one of “honor” in this new world, is to breed. Offred — literally, “of Fred,” Fred being the commander she’s been assigned to for now — has lost her mother, husband, and child in the regime change. Her carefree friend from college tried to rebel against the new world order, and Offred has a sickening idea of what became of her and others who can’t or won’t follow orders.
First off: I’m baaaack! I returned from my 5-week, 10-country European adventure late Tuesday night! (I’ll talk more about it tomorrow…drama, drama, drama!) Before I left, I read books from almost all the countries I visited. I posted a few reviews while I was over there, and then stopped. It ended up being a case of either having great WiFi connection but being too exhausted to write, or having lots of time and energy to write but having zero WiFi! Now that I’m back, I’ll be writing those reviews and spreading them out over the coming weeks.
Margherita Dolce Vita by Stefano Benni
Publisher/Year: Europa Editions, 2006
What it is: Margherita is a teenager living a peaceful and relatively happy life with her eccentric family in Italy. The family lives within their means in a modest suburban home and tries to recycle whatever they can. This all changes when a wealthy family moves in next door, building an eyesore of a modern home that Margherita’s family dubs “The Cube.” Life as Margherita knows it is suddenly over.
Why I read it: It looked like a happy, lighthearted book. The author is also popular in Italy.
What I thought: I knew this book was a satire, but I wasn’t expecting it to turn out even remotely the way it did. The first few chapters fell in line with my initial preconception of the book: lighthearted, funny, charming. Then the book started taking a very strange turn. By the end, I was just like, “what in the world am I reading?” Margherita’s neighbors can be taken as stand-ins for stereotypical Americans: abrasive, self-absorbed, obsessed with having the newest and best of everything without giving a damn about what anyone else needs or wants. It gets darker than that: Margherita’s neighbors end up revealing anti-immigrant, anti-poor people, pro-guns, pro-using tech to spy on people sentiments. And okay…if you’re trying to go over-the-top with dark satire and need to paint a negative America/American “type,” there’s definitely some basis for all those stereotypes. Fine. But the book went completely off the rails for me with its conspiracy theories and inexplicably bad plot twists. I kind of hated it (but I still love the cover).
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
Publisher/Year: Riverhead Books, 2014
What it is: In Chang-rae Lee’s dystopian America, the world has split into a bunch of colonies where only the wealthiest have it easy in areas known as charters. Outside the walls of the urban work colonies is a violent, ungoverned no-man’s land where people travel and live at their own risk. Fan is a Chinese fish-tank diver working in B-Mor, what was once Baltimore. When her lover mysteriously disappears, she leaves B-Mor and heads into the treacherous Open Counties to look for him.
Why I read it: It was one of the most talked about and highly anticipated releases this year.
What I thought: So here’s the thing: this was my first Chang-rae Lee book (nope, still haven’t read Native Speaker). I can see why the book got lots of great buzz and why people love Lee’s work. His writing is undeniably beautiful and haunting. There were parts of this book that I completely lost myself in, but there were also lots of times where I thought the book dragged on. It’s an atmospheric book; there are surreal, quietly unnerving plot twists told through the eyes of the narrators (a faceless, nameless group from B-Mor reimagining Fan’s story). Sometimes it worked for me, sometimes it didn’t.
Spoilers & trigger warning after the jump.
Beatrice Prior lives in a dystopian Chicago that has been split into five factions based on different virtues: Abnegation, which focuses on selflessness; Erudite, which focuses on intelligence; Dauntless, which focuses on bravery; Candor, which focuses on honesty; and Amity, which focuses on peacefulness. Children are raised within their parents’ factions, and every year, all sixteen-year-olds go through a special test to see which faction they belong to. They then have a choosing ceremony to pick which faction they’d like to be in, regardless of their test results. Most stay with their families, but all go through a trial period; if they don’t make it, they’re kicked out and become factionless, doomed to a life of homelessness and poverty.
Beatrice and her brother are both participating in the choosing ceremony this year. They’re Abnegation, and their parents work in government. At the moment, Abnegation is at odds with Erudite; Erudite has been spreading rumors about Abnegation in an attempt to take more control of the government. It’s more important than ever for Abnegation to stick together. Beatrice has always felt like she never fully fit in with Abnegation, but the thought of changing factions and leaving her family forever pains her. Her test she and her brother take the day before the ceremony are supposed to make everything clear, but they only confuse her even more.