My rating: 5 of 5 stars
even better the second (or possibly the third) time around.
the novel is a series of interlinked short stories, more or less. this time around reading it i had the feeling it was a tapestry, altho possibly not made of women’s hair.
that’s what the carpet makers make: carpets out of women’s hair. their wives’ and subwives’ hair. fear not, no women are harmed in the making of this carpet. well, not just for their hair, anyway.
the carpet makers work their art as honored members of their society. a carpet maker makes only one carpet in his (yes, always his) entire life. its selling price pays for his son’s lifework: making another hair carpet. generation after generation, making hair carpets, and where do they all go?
reportedly to the Emperor, who adorns his palace with them.
but all is not quite as the carpet makers have been led to believe, and the truth about where the carpets go and why is unbelievably appalling.
but no spoilers here!
Eschbach is a genius. this novel begins with the story of one otherwise utterly ignorant carpet maker, and in succeeding stories, tells you the history of an intergalactic empire that spans 250,000 years. Eschbach tells you this history in a mere 18 chapters. the genius of it is that each chapter is just one more story of a very human individual–he weaves the history so tightly into the individual’s story that the reader never feels she is being info-dumped upon nor given a lesson at all. we are simply reading one person’s story, and then another, and another, and each story is a perfectly formed and perfectly distinct gem.
as a writer, i stand in awe (the real kind) of what he has accomplished here. as a reader, i am alternately deeply moved, or amused, or horrified, or fall into the deepest of sighs that says, yes, that’s how life is (even when it’s not pretty, but also when it is).
i cannot recommend this book highly enough. i read at least 100 books a year, and in 45 years of reading like a mad librarian, i can count on my limited digits the number that i find to be of this caliber. this book is a serious literary and storytelling accomplishment, and i hope that this review convinces you to give it a try.
perhaps we can then all get together and convince Tor to have more of Eschbach’s works translated. to date this is the only one i know of in English. we are impoverished by this lack… Tor, are you listening?