Book Reviews

Book reviews will be added at the beginning of each month.

 

Hasan Namir:  God in Pink                                                                             reviewed by Danni Crenna

The story takes place in modern Baghdad but could be in many times and places.  There is an agreed-upon religion, an attitude to those who are different, and no other way is possible …. might even be US in a few years if the new Trump regime takes hold.

We see the story through the eyes of a young gay man who is trying to please his older brother and his religious leaders but knows he would not be true to himself if he does.  We see his dreams and fantasies and also his reality.  But we also see the story through the eyes of a religious leader who struggles to help while he struggles with his own demons.

It is an interesting dilemma in today’s world.  We pride ourselves on our open-mindedness in Canada but we also have our bigots and hate-crimes.  It will be interesting to hear Namir’s own story when he comes to the Readers and Writers Festival in July.

 

Emily St. John Mandel:  Station Eleven                                                     reviewed by Annette Reinhart

“Delano Island is between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, a straight shot north from Los Angeles….. Every year there are approximately two hundred days of rain.  There’s a village of sorts by the ferry terminal: a general store with one gas pump, [….] a real-estate office, an elementary school with sixty students, a community hall with two massive carved mermaids holding hands to form an archway over the front door and a tiny library attached.”

Sound familiar?

Our own wee island serves as a starting point for the lives of two of the main characters in Denman-raised Emily St. John Mandel’s science fiction novel, Station Eleven.  In this story, there are two different global realities – pre and post-world apocalypse – that occur within a short time period (20 odd years).  This sudden change is due to a pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population.  The plot weaves back and forth between idyllic beginnings on our west coast, a high-flying life of fame and fortune in east coast cities, and the primitive realities of the few survivors in the new devastated world after the global collapse.  Many narrative threads link the two worlds, including a multi-volume graphic novel called Station Eleven written and drawn pre-devastation and carried around by a survivor of the pandemic.  As the title predicts, Station Eleven comes to play a large role in the outcome of the novel.

The author uses the apocalyptic divide not so much to do the usual sci-fi thing which is to paint a vivid picture of a devastated world and dwell on the intense suffering and struggles to survive in it.  Instead, she uses this disaster as a vehicle or device to build the narrative – the story weaves back and forth between the two periods tracing the lives of the characters who have survived and using their stories to build up a larger story that carries them all within it.  It’s a story twinned on both sides of the societal collapse with Shakespearean stage actors focused on bringing art and beauty to the world.  The motto “Because survival is not enough” (taken from Star Trek) is held by the caravan of performers and musicians intent on bringing the best of the old, functioning world into the devastated post-pandemic world.  As the author says in an interview, “We have an instinct for art, even in the midst of catastrophe, and you see that in any of the most desperate places on Earth:  people play music in refugee camps and put on plays in war zones.”

This ambitious book is multi-layered, and comes from several viewpoints; it’s beautifully constructed with lots of links and clues between the times and characters to keep the narrative cohesive and the reader turning the pages.  The book has gathered great reviews, awards (finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction) and caused a three day bidding war amongst six publishers before being sold to Alfred A. Knopf.

Emily St. John Mandel has crafted a nested story that is creative, engrossing and brings a thoughtful perspective onto a fallen world.  Her writing is rich and brings characters and situations through cleverly invented and fully imagined times.  “I’ve always been interested in writing about memory, and in what it means to live honorably in a damaged world.”  She currently lives and works in New York City … but it all really started here … on our own Manhattan-sized island.