Lyric Dystopias

I picked up The Weaver by Emmi Itaranta, and it reminded me of other dystopic books, like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. However, in these books, the protagonist generally has to realize that things were or could be different. All of these protagonists are young, and while written for adults, these books are good choices for anyone longing for more of The Hunger Games. There's fantastic worldbuilding in all these stories, along with lyricism and philosophical questions.

In Emmi Itaranta's The Weaver, Eliana lives a fairly privileged, cloistered life in the House of Weaving until Valeria shows up. Attacked and rendered mute and with Eliana's name tattooed on her hand, Valeria plunges Eliana into a coming-of-age she could never have imagined. You see, dreams are forbidden in Eliana's totalitarian world, yet she has them, and as the story progresses, one learns their power. Also, one learns about the original inhabitants of the island Eliana and Valeria live on. Itaranta's prose is quite lyrical and one is bouyed by it as they try to figure out the rules of both man and nature in this far-future story.

Chang-Rae Lee cooks up a fascinating dystopia in On Such A Full Sea. Fan lives in serfdom farming fish in B-Mor, a work settlement full of Asian refugees around what used to be Baltimore. When her boyfriend disappears, Fan escapes B-Mor and goes in search of him. As Fan goes through "open counties" (areas of social and environmental collapse) and finally finds her way to a "charter" village where the wealthy live, the unreliable narrator muses on class, deprivation both material and psychic, and the healing power of art. Definitely one to pick up if you liked Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize, The Chimes by Anna Smaill takes us to dystopic London. Here, after a cataclysmic event, most people cannot hold onto their memories. They attempt to do so by carrying talismans with them and through music. Those who fail keep some memory become zombie-like. Simon enters this London, but cannot remember why or what he's supposed to do there. He hooks up with a crew of metal pickers whose leader believes that Simon's memories, if brought to the surface, could change the world. While setting a deliberate pace in the beginning as the reader gets acclimated to this post-apocalyptic society, the book suddenly becomes compulsive reading and one revels in the lyrical prose.

Got other books in this same vein? Tell us about them in the comments.

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