book review: the girl in the road

One of my coworkers recently did a display in our library called “The One With The Girl” which was full of all these books with Girl in the title (The Girl on the Train, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, stuff like that). Weirdly enough, she missed Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road. But when I spotted it on a non-display shelf the Girl display had been replaced for World Water Day, so I was standing there with a book in my hand and nothing to do but read it. Oh woe. I had to read a book.

I really liked it.

There are two storylines, set in the mid-late 21st century. One is about a woman, Meena, who is fleeing her hometown in southern India because of a snake in her bed, which she is sure was an Ethiopian terror attack targeting her.

The other story is about a little girl, Mariama, in West Africa who stows away on a transport truck taking oil to Ethiopia. She’s looked after by the drivers and by the goddess they meet on the road.

Meena goes to Mumbai to start walking to Djibouti to find the person who killed her parents before she was born. Walking to Djibouti from Mumbai is a thing that might be possible because of the Trail: a multi-thousand kilometre long chain of solar- and wave-energy collector buoys strung across the Arabian Sea. Parts of Meena’s story really reminded me of Life of Pi, but she’s way more prepared, technologically speaking than Piscine Patel ever was.

This is very much a road novel, with the protagonists having encounters and moving along. I really liked it, and the pacing between the continent-crossing and the sea-crossing worked really well for me.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that it is a story about India and Africa written by a white woman from the U.S. Byrne thanks people with names that sound like they come from appropriate parts of the world in the acknowledgements, but I haven’t read reviews of the book by people of the cultures being portrayed. It didn’t seem objectifying or exoticizing to me, but I’m a white dude. I thought it was pretty good with the hijra character from a cultural perspective. But if you are sensitive to the “bad things happen to lgbtq characters” and “lgbtq characters are haunted by loads of trauma” this may be one to avoid.

darwin’s bastards talk

This morning I went to the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival for an event. Zsuszi Gartner was hosting three of the writers from Darwin’s Bastards. With four writers reading from their work, there wasn’t as much conversation as I might have enjoyed, but it was entertaining. The split between the bigger writers (William Gibson & Yann Martel) and the smaller writers (Adam Lewis Schroeder & Anosh Irani) was something that could have been more interesting to explore. There was a question from the audience about whether they write for an audience or think about their works as marketable items, which is a fundamentally different question when you’ve written a “big” book like Life of Pi, vs created a genre, vs are a playwright no one has ever heard of.

I think my favourite part of the panel was watching the writers listen to each other reading. Martel seemed very contemplative, inwardly focused while Gibson listened carefully and openly loved the funny bits. Also, he did his “imaginative fiction being every kind of fiction” thing which I do appreciate when people try to pigeon-hole sf. The way Irani read his story was much less flippant than the voice that was in my head, but that seriousness made the black comedy of that womb-creature even more stark. Schroeder also sang a song, in a Feist-like way. He was pretty fun, very much the dramatizer of his tale.

After the discussion I stood in line to get my copy of Darwin’s Bastards signed by the four of them. And it’s funny, but when I’ve been talking about this book to people (in person, apparently I didn’t mention him in my thing here), I’ve tended to tell them about the Schroeder story first. I told him that, and he seemed to appreciate it. I didn’t mention that William Gibson is the first author in the collection I mention.