- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; Reissue edition (February 17, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804138869
- ISBN-13: 978-0804138864
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Girl in the Road: A Novel Paperback – February 17, 2015
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Byrne’s stunning debut tells the story of two women from different time periods who set out on quests across forbidding landscapes. In India in the latter half of the twenty-first century, Meena survives what she believes is an assassination attempt after discovering a snake in her bed. Fleeing this threat to her life, she decides to track down the woman responsible for the death of her parents more than a quarter-of-a-century ago in Ethiopia. Meena knows her journey won’t be an easy one. She intends to travel along the Trail, a bridge used to harness energy that runs across the Arabian Sea. Years before Meena sets out on her journey, ten-year-old Mariama smuggles herself aboard a truck bound for Ethiopia. The drivers take pity on her and allow her to accompany them, but it is Yemaya, a mysterious, beautiful passenger they pick up along the way, who captures Mariama’s attention and heart. More than a few surprises await Meena and Mariama and the reader as story lines converge in a surprising, gratifying climax. --Kristine Huntley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Sci-fi has long claimed to be the multicultural literature of the future. This is the real thing. . . . Described with verve and conviction. . . . A new sensation, a real achievement.” —Wall Street Journal
“Dizzying. . . . Primal and indelible. . . . Delivered with all the vivid, haunting poignancy of a vision quest.”— NPR.org
“Vividly imagined.” —Los Angeles Times
“[A] sci-fi smash hit. . . . Byrne crafts a gorgeous future world. . . . Elaborate and beguiling.”—Duke Chronicle
“It’s transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in sci-fi with her debut novel: so sharp, so focused and so human. Beautifully drawn people in a future that feels so close you can touch it, blended with the lush language and concerns of myth. It builds a bridge from past to future, from East to West. Glorious stuff.” —Neil Gaiman, author of The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Relentlessly kinetic. . . . [The narrative] captures the sheer surface speed and exhilaration of living in the changing contemporary world. . . . A ceaseless storm of matter and energy.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Girl in the Road brims with ambition...Inventive… Fearless …[A] wild, hallucinatory ride.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“In unadorned, clearly descriptive prose, Byrne moves briskly from scene to scene. . . . A deeply felt, troubling and memorable story.” —Indy Week (Durham, NC)
“Engrossing, thought-provoking. . . . [Byrne] weaves the elements of science fiction and speculative fiction with myth, spirituality and philosophical speculation, all while creating a page-turning story. The Girl in the Road is meant to be enjoyed, pondered, and re-read.” —Durham Herald-Sun
“Impressive. . . . The one thing no reader will doubt is Byrne’s place as a strong new voice in science fiction.” —Shelf Awareness
“This science fiction tale of future Africa and Asia has all the escape you could want — new technology, a murder mystery, two interwoven narratives — plus the cultural commentary inherent in the best of speculative fiction. Byrne’s characters are complicated, a little lost, and well worth rooting for. With a debut like this, you’ll want to keep an eye on her.” —Brooklyn Daily
“Byrne, whose creative life is clearly churning, has earned broad exposure for her debut novel, and with support from mentors such as author Neil Gaiman, she’s on her own journey – as a writer, defying literary convention and shaping worlds out of uncomfortable truths.” –Raleigh News & Observer
“Gripping. . . . Easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.” —Bookish.com
“Stunning. . . . More than a few surprises await Meena and Mariama and the reader as story lines converge in a surprising, gratifying climax.” —Booklist
“Spectacular and intriguing. . . . Enthralling on many levels. . . . The incorporation of evolving views of gender . . . propel this novel into the stratosphere of artistic brilliance.” —Library Journal (starred)
“The most inventive tale to come along in years. . . . The writing is often brilliant, as Byrne paints wholly believable pictures of worlds and cultures most Westerners will never know. . . . Engrossing and enjoyable.” —Kirkus
“Byrne is a science writer and graduate of MIT, but her insight into our near future is as much informed by her extensive travels as her grasp of science. . . . A book you will certainly be hearing a lot about in 2014.” —Guardian (UK)
“Monica Byrne’s vision of India and Africa as an ever-changing maelstrom of language and culture, technology and sexuality is utterly captivating. As Meena and Mariama chase each other’s echoes, Byrne strips away their preconceptions (and ours as well) through that most dangerous of human impulses: our need to understand the past, and to decide our own future. An electrifying debut.” —Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni
“Monica Byrne has written the road trip novel you didn't know you were waiting for. A genuine and extraordinary journey. Take it.” —John Scalzi, author of Redshirts
“The Girl in the Road is a brilliant novel, vivid, intense, and fearless with a kind of savage joy. These journeys—Meena’s across the Arabian Sea and Mariama’s across Africa—are utterly unforgettable.” —Kim Stanley Robinson, author of 2312 and Red Mars
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Obviously the two storylines are going to connect, and along the way Byrne does some great near-future world building both in terms of technologies and societies (no, it's not as good as Ian MacDonald's, but then again, whose is?). I'm always eager to see how writers envisage a near-future Africa, and Mariama's eastward journey shows an Africa overrun by competing Chinese and Indian interests. Meanwhile, a long chain of revolutionary metal connecting India to Djibouti captures wave energy as power supply of the future. It's also an illegal pilgrim's trail of sorts, one that seduces Meena toward an epic ocean-crossing of her own.
There is a lot going on in the book, challenging of gender roles, politics, capitalism, and some X-rated scenes (and I suppose in today's climate, one has to note that there's a distressing episode of pedophilia). Coupled with all this is the inherent unreliability of either narrator -- one due to age, innocence, and trauma, the other due to a mania that only gradually reveals itself as all-consumingly delusional. As the book builds to an end, it gets more and more hazy and, for lack of better word, spiritual in ways that I found completely unsatisfying. However, I will acknowledge that it's a theme that appeals to many, it's just not my thing.
Recommended for those seeking debut novels with a strong voice, especially from female writers.
(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)
When Meena awakes to find a snake in her bed – presumably placed there in an assassination attempt by the revolutionary political group Semena Werk – she decides that it’s time to blow town. (“Town” being Thrissur, India.) The faster, the better. Born in Ethiopia to visiting Indian medical students, Meena’s parents were murdered before her birth: “As a baby I felt my mother die around me.” (page 36) Luckily, two Indian nurses happened upon the grisly scene in time to save the premature newborn. Meena impulsively decides to travel to the town of Addis, Ethiopia, both to escape her attackers and hunt down her parents’ killer, who escaped justice so many years ago.
In order to stay under the radar, Meena chooses an unlikely route: the Trans-Arabian Linear Generator, simply known as “the Trail.” Built by HydraCorp, the Trail is the next generation of energy: Blue energy to our Green. Stretching from Mumbai to Djibouti, the TALG harnesses the power of waves to generate energy. While it’s illegal (and difficult) to walk the Trail, rumor has it that many pilgrims have made the journey; some brave/lost souls even built their homes on its surface. Traversing the Trail to the site of her parents’ death – where all of Meena’s troubles arguably began – becomes a sort of religious experience for her. As the days wear on and Meena’s sanity wanes with them, she begins to hallucinate the visages of those ghosts who haunt her – including her dead lover, Mohini.
Meanwhile, in a time a little nearer to our own, young Mariama is undertaking a journey of her own. Mariama and her mother are slaves – Haratines owned by an Indian doctor who routinely sends Mariama away so that he can rape her mother. The two escape to a shantytown in Nouakchott, but their reprieve is brief; one day Mariama returns to their sparse dwelling only to find the space filled with a ghastly blue snake. She flees, just like her mother taught her, stowing away on an oil truck bound for Ethiopia. Francis and Muhammed, the two men leading the convoy, reluctantly adopt Mariama for the length of the journey; and, while she likes them well enough, she becomes enraptured with Yemaya, a young woman who joins them in Dakar, Senegal. Over the course of the months-long trek – at turns tedious and harrowing – Yemaya and Mariama enter into a “relationship” (I kind of cringe to call it that, but hesitate to explain why because spoilers) that will forever change the course of the girl’s life.
THE GIRL IN THE ROAD is unlike anything I’ve read before. In fact, I have trouble believing that it’s Monica Byrne’s first novel, so expertly does she weave the threads of these two women’s lives together, across both time and space.
The story consists of two “books” – those of Meena and Mariama, through whose alternating viewpoints the story unfolds – with many paths that intersect, oftentimes in unexpected ways. THE GIRL IN THE ROAD is rich with symbolism, which Byrne adeptly employs to draw parallels between Meena and Mariama’s seemingly disparate journeys.
Both women are haunted by snakes: for Meena, it is what tries – and almost succeeds – to kill her, leaving her instead with five puncture wounds on her chest. But this attack is foreshadowed by the phantom pain that has plagued Meena’s solar plexus her entire life. Many years earlier, a kind woman gave Mariama a piece of sea snake meat as, unbeknownst to her, her mother was being attacked in their hut. Though Mariama later vomited up this small, much-needed meal, the spirit of the kreen took up permanent residence in her chest, frequently resurfacing whenever Mariama was moved to anger or jealousy: “A tumor where the sea snake didn’t go down.” (page 131)
This is just the most obvious example. From words and phrases (saha, golden meaning) to hallucinations (girls in roads, only some of which choose to get up and keep going) and seeming mania, Meena and Mariama’s lives converge in countless ways – all of them expertly painted by Byrne. I’m positive that if I were to re-read The Girl in the Road, I’d discover countless gems that I overlooked the first time.
Byrne presents two visions of the future – near and slightly farther – that are both compelling and trenchant. She explores rape culture (and in great detail – rape is almost shockingly prevalent, and includes child rape, statutory rape, forced rape, sexual slavery, and sexual trafficking); the intersection of race, ethnicity, and cultural identity; colonialism; privacy issues vis-à-vis emerging technologies; and the socio-psychology of energy. Fittingly, the characters are diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Mohini, for example, is a bisexual trans woman, and Meena is unabashedly promiscuous and also bisexual.
THE GIRL IN THE ROAD isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those who like their stories wrapped up neatly, complete with a shiny, hopeful ribbon – no matter how skinny. This book is grim and depressing, and devoid of heroes – or anyone worth rooting for (though you won’t know it until the end; that’s a nice little switcheroo Byrne manages to pull, and it’s so well done that I can’t even be mad about it.) Well, at least as far as the protagonists go.
I’ll admit that I had a little trouble getting into the story at first: Byrne jumps right in, with little by way of background or explanation. Yet I quickly found myself immersed, and the story had me guessing (usually incorrectly) right up ’til the very end. Byrne is compared to Atwood, and not without cause (although I was more than a little bummed to find Atwood missing from Meena’s scroll; perhaps this was intentional?); this future brought to mind a more international version of ORYX AND CRAKE. Similar, but by no means the same: Byrne is very much her own woman. And I for one cannot wait to see what else she comes up with!