This book was so different from anything I’ve read lately. It’s near-future science fiction set in India and Africa, and written in a really lyrical way. It’s the story of two characters, both on a journey. Meena is a troubled young woman who has just been attacked by a snake in her bed, which for some reason leads her to believe she’s being pursued and has to leave town without a trace.
We have no idea why Meena is running, or what she’s running from. Along the way she shares her memories about Mohini, the woman she’s in love with (we also don’t know what’s happened to her). Meena runs to Mumbai, where she learns about the Trail, which is a high-tech, flexible metal “chain” that runs from Mumbai to Djibouti, acting as an energy generator. The Trail is the next big thing in eco-technology. It’s also attracted a small group of followers who believe it’s possible to walk the Trail all the way from India to Africa. Only it’s illegal, and no one’s done it yet.
Meena was born in Ethiopia, where her parents were murdered in a medical clinic at the time of her birth. She becomes fixated on finding the place of her birth.
The Trail seemed unreal: a floating pontoon bridge moored just offshore from Mumbai, which spanned the whole Arabian Sea, like a poem, not a physical thing. I asked Mohini what she though it’d be like to walk on it all the way to Africa. She received my enthusiasm in her gracious way but cautioned that the Trail was all blank sky and faceless sea, the perfect canvas upon which to author my own madness.
The other character is Mariama, a young girl in Africa who has to flee her home and stows away with two men carrying cargo to Ethiopia. The trio join up with a young woman, Yemaya, who becomes sort of a mother figure to Mariama.
I liked Meena’s character – she’s an interesting mix of smart, independent, and not altogether sane. She doesn’t seem to want to go on living but at the same time she does some incredibly brave things. Although there’s a point where she gets so wrapped up in her “pity me, I never had a mother” monologue that it sort of takes over. She’s not always sympathetic but I still found myself rooting for her.
When I open my eyes again, I’m in complete darkness. I forget where I am. I’m cool, damp, naked. Then I remember: I’m underfuckingwater. I feel in the dark for my bag, pull out one of my sunbits, and squeeze it. The gentle yellow light fills the pod. But outside there’s nothing but blackness. I wish I had a mother. The mothered never get into situations like this.
I can’t tell you whether the science is realistic (for my husband, it needs to be – not so much for me). It’s hard to tell what’s real, what’s a hallucination, and who is connected to whom and in what ways. This is not a book for readers who like a straightforward, clearly-explained story. But I like a book that unfolds slowly like a mystery. I like being kept in the dark as a reader, having the story gradually explain itself, which is what this book does.
I remember less, now, of what came before. My mind used to travel through the same space, and at the same intervals, that my body traveled in. Now my mind only skips along the surface of the space my body travels in. Like a skipping stone.
At one point during my vacation this book became a little too difficult to follow and I switched to something easier. Soon I went back to it, re-read the earlier chapters, and it really came together for me.
I will note that a lot of readers on Amazon were bothered by the sexuality of this book, especially as it relates to young Mariama, but I didn’t find it to be a problem. Yes, this book is dark, and some of it will make you uncomfortable. I’m not sure I liked everything about the conclusion, but overall, I really enjoyed this creative, thoughtful and original read.
Note: I received a review copy of this book from Crown Publishing and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It was released May 10, 2014.