My rating: 5 of 5 stars
wow. just, wow. i’ve never read a book quite like this, and it’s fabulous.
it’s an sf/allegorical/Dickensian book that covers gender, motherlove, murder, a quest tale, climate change, sexuality of all stripes, possibly mental illness… a genderbending, cross-cultural, spiritual quest of a woman’s tale. i mean really a woman’s tale, too, not just a tale that has women in it, but one in which women are all the stars.
i would kill to be able to write a book like this.
our heroine, Meena, a young Mumbai woman, wakes one morning with five snakebite punctures on her solar plexus. this propels her on a journey across The Trail, a futuristic energy collector that spans the Arabian Sea. she’s headed to Ethiopia, on foot all the way.
in a parallel tale, 7-year-old Mariama too sets out on a journey to Ethiopia. aided by a cast of kind strangers and a mysterious woman named Yemaya, she too is seeking something she can’t name.
plot-wise, it’s a puzzle-box of a tale. what do Mariama and Meena signify to each other? Mariama’s tale precedes Meena’s by a few years, which the author kindly reveals by letting us figure it out rather than signposting it. as she does with all the other elements of the tale–what’s the snake signify? who is this Yemaya, and who Bloody Mary? who is real in the story, and who imagined, and does the difference make any difference? particularly as reality begins to fracture for Meena, what’s real and what’s not becomes increasingly tangled.
is the Trail even there?
this is the kind of story one can wrangle with for months, rather i suppose like a thrashing, multi-headed snake: just when you get one end pinned down, another leaps up to fasten its fangs into you. at the moment, i’ve just finished the book, and my head is entirely full of snakes. it’s that delicious, fantastic feeling that one gets only when reading a multilayered, complex novel with dense imagery and characters exquisitely drawn. i know it’s reverberating down there in my subconscious, but it’s going to be a long while before i figure it out.
i listened to the audio version, and the readers do a spectacular job. plus, it’s just a swoon to listen to such beautiful language read with such lovely accents.
read it or listen to it, it’s the kind of literary experience that you’ll never forget.