Passionate complications of love and hate elevate N.K. Jemisin’s novel The Obelisk Gate / Complicaciones apasionadas de amor y odio elevan la novela de N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate

obelisk_When I reviewed The Fifth Season, the first novel in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, I focused on what the violence in the novel was telling us and how the idea of violence shaped the story and the reader. The second novel in the series, The Obelisk Gate, is about love and hate, the fundamental motivations for all actions. So, if you’re up for a conversation about that, read on–just know that there will be spoilers.

Our hero from the first novel, Essun, is still in the underground community of Castrima where we left her at the end of the first novel. She’s a bit lost herself because she lost her daughter’s trail and doesn’t know how to find her, but she also has found a few people (and others) who care for her, and a place in a community that knows she is an orogene and tolerates her presence nonetheless. Her old love Alabaster has made it to Castrima as well. He is dying after having caused the rift that has brought on a season of destruction, but he tries in his impatient, imperfect way to teach her what she needs to know to finish what he started. No, the objective is not destruction of the world. The objective is an end to the seasons and re-establishing the planetary balance that will make it possible for humans (and others) to thrive again.

The novel also follows Nassun, Essun’s only daughter and surviving child, on her journey south with her homicidal father. Nassun is just leaving childhood, physically, mentally and emotionally, and Jemisin does an outstanding job of portraying the capacities and vulnerabilities of a girl that age. We see her navigate the unstable terrain that is her father’s mind–a man who could bludgeon her three-year-old brother to death because he discovered the boy was an orogene, yet tenuously hangs on to Nassun to take her somewhere he’s heard she can be cured. Why? Love. Twisted, damaged and smashed love. Nassun valiantly attempts to keep the image of her father in her heart and mind despite what she knows about him. Why? Love. The other parent, Essun–the one who pushed her as a child, hurt her so she would know how to protect herself, the one who is not there–becomes an object of hate, though the child does not clearly acknowledge this as her fear and desperation turns her in that direction. Continue reading

Dammit, now I have to read Go Set a Watchman

Atticus is a racist.

When the first heralds reviewing Go Set a Watchman reported this about the newly published novel by Harper Lee, I cringed. I thought to myself, this is why the damn book wasn’t published before. Why? Why does To Kill a Mockingbird–a literary gift that so many have cherished–have to be sullied with a sequel like this?

I do not care that Randall Kennedy writes in the New York Times Sunday Book Review: “Go Set a Watchman demands that its readers abandon the immature sentimentality ingrained by middle school lessons about the nobility of the white savior and the mesmerizing performance of Gregory Peck in the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.” Just what one expects from that erudite publication–another condescending opinion that delights in its righteousness and utter lack of empathy with readers.

True, Mockingbird is a treasured cultural totem of white Americans. It allowed many white Americans living in the 20th Century to see themselves in a rose-colored light when our social reality was even bleaker than it is today. But this light had and still has value. This light is a gift of fiction because it provided a way to new thinking. A way. A path readers could take that might give them the perspective needed to imagine a better and more inclusive American society. It represented an ideal sense of the potential for social change. Continue reading