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The Book of Joan: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 18, 2017
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“In this brilliant and incendiary new novel, mixing realism and fabulism, Earth, circa 2049, has been devastated by global warming and war; the wealthy live on a suborbital complex ruled by a billionaire celebrity turned dictator.” (New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice)
“Stunning.... Yuknavitch understands that our collective narrative can either destroy or redeem us, and the outcome depends not just on who’s telling it, but also on who’s listening.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)
“[A] searing fusion of literary fiction and reimagined history and science-fiction thriller and eco-fantasy...Yuknavitch is a bold and ecstatic writer, wallowing in sex and filth and decay and violence and nature and love with equal relish.” (NPR Books)
“This ambitious novel encompasses a wide canvas to spin a captivating commentary on the hubris of humanity. An interesting blend of posthuman literary body politics and paranormal ecological transmutation; highly recommended.” (Library Journal, starred review)
“Lidia Yukanavitch is skilled at writing poetically about the human body, and about nature, so this book ― her first foray into science fiction ― makes sense. It’s a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, but in a world ravaged by radiation, and with few land-based survivors.” (Huffington Post, 17 Spine-Tingling New Books for Fans of Dystopia)
“Joan [of Arc] offers herself as the perfect figure for Yuknavitch’s new novel. Translated into a dystopian future, this New Joan of Dirt serves as emblem for all the stalwart commoners in whose crushing defeat lies a kind of inviolate spiritual victory. . . . [The Book of Joan] offers a wealth of pathos, with plenty of resonant excruciations and some disturbing meditations on humanity’s place in creation . . . [It] concludes in a bold and satisfying apotheosis like some legend out of The Golden Bough and reaffirms that even amid utter devastation and ruin, hope can still blossom.” (Washington Post)
“While delivering an entirely new world and also putting forth a powerful treatise on the way we live now, The Book of Joan is one of those dystopian novels that you can’t help thinking might be too eerily real to be just fiction.” (Newsweek)
“While delivering an entirely new world and also putting forth a powerful treatise on the way we live now, The Book of Joan is one of those dystopian novels that you can’t help thinking might be too eerily real to be just fiction.” (USA Today, Best New Book Releases of April 18)
“In a new kind of world, we need a new kind of hero and a reimagined Joan of Arc from Yuknavitch seems like just the thing.” (The Millions, Most Anticipated Books for April)
“The Book of Joan is ferocious and indelible, grappling with what it means to love in the midst of violence; and how we transform fury, agony, and history into art. It is huge in its scope, moving seamlessly, quantumly, between dirt and cosmos, and through the wormholes of nonlinear time.” (Electric Literature)
From the Back Cover
In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures
floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.
Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unites to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing. And no one—not the rebels, Jean de Men, nor even Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.
A riveting tale of destruction and love found in the direst of places—even at the extreme end of post-human experience—the extraordinarily gifted Lidia Yuknavitch has written a fierce heroine like no other. The Book of Joan is an explosive work of fiction that considers what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the urgency of art as a means for survival.
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I'll just give a couple examples. If these bother you as much as they do me, you will know not to read the book.
(I do like the writing style; very readable and at times very evocative/poetic.)
Early on, we learn that a bunch of the very richest people on Earth have all paid up to be allowed onto a space station located above Earth, and that Earth is a wasteland. However: there is no basis for previous Earthly wealth to have meaning any more. Who cares if you were wealthy before? We also learn that everyone on the space station gets killed when they reach the ripe old age of 50, to preserve resources. But what in the bloody hell? The people on the space station can't reproduce; there are no children younger than teen agers. So why are there any population pressures? And who is going to have the knowledge to maintain this space station or improve things? And, who would want to go live on a space station if they required you to cut your genitals off/sew them up? And, it turns out that Earth is still completely habitable. Lots of living things in caves, and people can travel freely across the desert/wasted landscape. It would clearly be radically more comfortable, radically cheaper in terms of energy and resources and safety to just make a shelter on Earth, than it would be to make a shelter in outer space. Even if they do have low cost space elevators. But no one on earth lives in shelters, they just move from place to place camping and starving. And eating "oilbirds" that eat fruit. But where would this fruit be found exactly? Ugh; I must stop.
I could go on and on. A post-apocalyptic future with a world in which the author has spent no time imagining the logical consequences of the circumstances she invented. Where is the science fiction fun in that?
It is 2049. The Earth is a burned-out, lifeless husk due to world wars, global geological catastrophes, and solar flares. Wealthy humans, or what they have evolved into, are living on CIEL, a suborbital complex hovering above the Earth. Human are currently all sexless, hairless, and completely white. Christine Pizan, 49, remembers life on earth before CIEL, but now she resembles the other inhabitants. The residents of CIEL are not allowed to live past age 50, to save resources. They also practice body modification and cover themselves in scars and skin grafts. Christine specializes in skin stories, an electrosurgical branding of words on skin grafts. On her body, Christine is telling the story of Joan of Dark, a child and echo-terrorist who had a mysterious power and communicated directly with the Earth. When Christine dies, Joan's story, as branded/written on her skin, will continue
Joan fought against Jean de Men for the Earth. He is a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who waged war against Joan and currently rules CIEL as a quasi-corporate police state. De Men turned Joan into a martyr, putting her execution on display - but her story is not over. Christine is planning a rebellion with others to seize control from de Men and she also learns that Joan is still alive on Earth. She is also hoping she can save her beloved friend, Trinculo.
This speculative fiction novel is told in three books, the first narrative is through Christine's point-of-view, the second is Joan's story, and the third concludes the story. The writing is incredible - literary, poetic. Yuknavitch is a wordsmith who delights in language and the passion and horror words can communicate. The Book of Joan is firmly a feminist point-of-view and confronts the questions of sexuality, love, and the fluidity of genders, along with the need to rebel against tyrannical leaders with no compassion or humanity. It begs the question: What does it mean to be human? To love?
I delighted in some of the wording Yuknavitch used in The Book of Joan. While the poetic, literary, and lyrical wording was extraordinary, and is its own literary achievement, the actual plot needed a little bit of clarification, additional explanation, more story. No one will question the quality of the writing; it is the context that became perplexing at times. In some ways this novel is almost too ambitious for the goals set before it. In the end I took great delight in the writing but felt dissatisfied by the actual flow of the narrative. While the characters are developed and there is change and growth, the notion of character development doesn't seem to directly apply to The Book of Joan - except for Joan.
The Book of Joan is highly recommended, but for a specific audience. If you like literary novels with a science fiction setting and take delight in words and their usage, it's a good choice. If you like a good epic, post-apocalyptic science fiction story, you might feel let down by the lack of a fluid, well-appointed plot.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.