The Book of Joan: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 18, 2017
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“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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It must be said that much of this may be laid to a matter of taste. In particular, I tend to enjoy hard science fiction. In general, I like to see the connection between this world and that of the novel. I want to see how we got from here to there. Ms. Yuknavitch’s novel (much like Jeff Vandermeer’s Bourne, which also didn’t do much for me) is more fantasy overlaid with the trappings of science fiction. It is rare for me to be able to get on board with this situation unless I really connect to the world-creation, which I didn’t in this case.
The setting of the CIEL platform hovering above a ravaged Earth siphoning off any remaining resources via skylines to the surface is excellent. The plot as a riff on the Joan of Arc story is a good one. What didn’t work for me were the characters.
I found it very difficult to connect to the impossible occupants of CIEL—neuter & white, disfiguring themselves with skin grafts and tattoos. The only “real” humans left are the wanderers on the surface but we only truly get to know Joan and her friend, Leone, and Joan with her essentially magical powers is as much a cipher as her companion who we don’t get to know well enough to understand why Joan loves her so much.
I know enough to understand that some people may find this setting and these characters very appealing. For some readers, the themes of a ravaged earth and its destroyers and saviors may be enough. I, however, am looking for something different.
I'm not sure how to review a novel that so completely covers so much ground, in such a succinct manner. We have all the ingredients of a major, tragic, epic. But told in a very fresh and honest way. The characters don't just drive the plot, they are the plot. And the point. And the counterpoint. But it is the characters that belie our humanity, both in the sacred, and in the banal. I'm not going to bother with plot and such, you will get that elsewhere. But I will bother you by saying that you need to read this book. If only to try and figure it out.
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?
Top international reviews
O ano é 2049, e o planeta sucumbiu aos problemas climáticos e guerras. Uma espécie de nave chamada CIEL orbita em torno da Terra, e nela moram os poucos sobreviventes do apocalipse. Quem governa essa colônia é um imperador malévolo chamado Jean de Men, que foi capaz de derrotar uma garota rebelde de nome Joan of Dirty, numa batalha.
As pessoas que habitam CIEL são uma espécie de humanos mutantes, sem cabelos, sem órgãos sexuais, cujas pelas são decoradas com enxertos que podem contar histórias. A protagonista (e uma das narradoras) de The Book of Joan, Christine (chamada também de Christ), está marcando sua pele com a história da rebelde Joan. Além disso, planeja com seu amante Trinculo criar um espaço para os dissidentes – a própria relação sexual entre eles já é algo bem peculiar e subversivo.
Acredita-se que Joan of Dirty foi queimada viva como punição por suas heresias – ela também ouvia vozes. Mas, em capítulos alternados com Christine, ela mesma conta sua história, e de como sobreviveu a esse ataque. Com outra combatente chamada Leone, a personagem atravessa florestas, se esconde para se manter viva, e também planeja algo grandioso quando percebe seus poderes. Enquanto a política dentro de CIEL ganha novos contornos, as histórias das duas narradoras convergem para o mesmo ponto.
Yuknavitch altarna as duas vozes narrativas e os dois pontos de vista, mas também transita entre 1a e 3a pessoa dentro de um mesmo segmento, causando incompreensão, no começo, mas, ao mesmo tempo, sedimentando toda a (in)capacidade das narradoras (e narrativas) darem conta de algo novo, pós-humano, e incompreensível até para elas – e especialmente para nós. Narrativas, tanto em CIEL, quanto na Terra, do nosso presente, são formas de controle, e De Men, mais do que ninguém no romance, está ciente disso, em sua capacidade de controlar a partir das narrativas marcadas nos corpos.
Se Joan of Dirty remete rapidamente a Joana D’Arc, Christine é uma personagem que alude a Christine de Pizan (Cristina de Pisano, em português), uma poeta e filósofa italiana radicada na França, que viveu no século XIV. Uma das poucas cronistas de sua época, ficou famosa por defender o papel das mulheres na sociedade e criticar a misógina, especialmente no meio literário. A linguagem como mediador se torna refém de De Men, um ditador totalitário e bufão (como tantos governantes do presente), que a domina. Yuknavitch, tanto aqui como em livros como THE SMALL BACKS OF CHILDREN, é uma autora interessada em dinâmica de corpos ocupando espaços e sendo transformados por essa ocupação. Sua linguagem evoca vísceras e poesia que dialogam, corpos que se consomem, e, ao mesmo tempo, consomem o seu entorno.
Nesse sentido, é sintomático, que a literatura e o cinema transformam o pós-apocalipse num objeto de consumo que alerta, e, ao mesmo tempo, satisfaz. Nos mostra o mundo para onde caminhamos, e nos alenta por não termos chegado lá (ainda). Yuknavitch não se furta dessa lógica, mas também tenta a subverter com uma história ao mesmo tempo familiar como estranha. Encontramos elementos de conforto – o mais forte é a própria Joan of Dirty/Joana D’Arc, que acabou canonizada – como mal-estar – e há vários desse no livro, desde os corpos mutantes até a opressão dentro de CIEL. E, ao final, acabamos mesmo é impressionado com o poder de imaginação da autora capaz de criar um mundo tão estranho quanto habitual.