Wow. I've been struggling to think of a way to describe this reading experience. Let's just begin by ripping a description right off of Monica Byrne's website:
In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys -- each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.
When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India. As she plots her exit, she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run. This is her salvation. Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS system, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.
Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home. She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba, Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture. But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected -- romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.
As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.
You know, I read this, and I think, "Ya, that's the surface of it all." But it gives the impression that this novel is something like a normal, linear experience, and that is a mistake. I really don't know much about the author, Monica Byrne, and her prior writing experiences, but to me, this book feels like the artistic product of a poet and playwright. There is, on one hand, a dreamlike lyricism to the prose, that moves the reader along the journey in a way that feels like a Terry Gilliam movie. Both Gilliam and Monica Byrne understand how to use science fiction elements to heighten mystery and transcend reality. Honestly, for some reason as I read, I kept thinking of this film I saw a long time ago by David Cronenberg called Dead Ringers - the one with Jeremy Irons as the twins. A similar vibe. We know on some level throughout the telling of Mariama's and Meena's narratives, that something dark and mysterious and powerful link the lives and psyches of these two women. As they move forward, both literally and figuratively, on their journeys, Byrne even begins to grant them elements of the other's personality. I loved the snake motif running throughout the story, and found the role of sexuality in the lives of these characters really unconventional and interesting.
Writing something like this cannot have been an easy experience. I just want to congratulate the author and tell her that the end result is really potent. It would be so fun to use this book in a college classroom - the discussions could last all semester. I just finished reading Divergent, which was so disappointing that I wound up posting a terribly snarky review right after. I told my daughter, who is 16, "Sometimes I read a book and it makes me worry about the teenage brain," to which she responded, "Sometimes I worry about the teenage brain, too!" Fortunately for me, I followed up that experience with this one. I now feel like going out and knocking on my neighbors' doors and telling them, "Have you read this book? So many good young writers! The future of literature is secure!"