Cannonball Read III: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
The Premier of Ontario needs a heart, but it can't be from a pig! In the late 21st century, the city of Toronto has gone bankrupt and all the rich people have fled to the suburbs, leaving the poor people and the crime bosses to run the inner city as they see fit. In this way, the setting for Brown Girl in the Ring* by Nalo Hopkinson, has striking similarities to the documentary Requiem for Detroit about the current urban decay of a once great city. I've been feeling a little post-apocalyptic lately due to my grad research about development aid, so this book helped soothe my fretful mind about what we'll do when all of our carefully constructed, if not totally irresponsible and selfish, economic systems of unsustainable resource and cheap human labour exploitation comes crashing down around our ears. The answer is: we'll survive.
I'm not a big science fiction fan but Brown Girl in the Ring is more than science fiction. The protagonist, Ti-Jeanne, is flawed and human just like all the other characters in this book. She has a grandmother, Mummy, who is trying to teach Ti-Jeanne about Obeah and help her understand the visions she keeps having. Ti-Jeanne has Baby, whom she mostly resents but loves enough to try to stay away from the smooth-talking but troubled father of Baby, Tony. So while this is science fiction in that it is set in the future, it is a familiar future with real human stories and conflicts that could be played out at any point in history. Also, the Luddite in me liked that Ti-Jeanne and Tony try to flee the city by bicycle. Take that Mad Max! Who needs crazy motorcycles when you have invisible bicycles guided by the spirit realm?!
The combination of interesting characters, well developed story lines and a realistic take on a dystopian future in the decayed remains of unsustainable opulence make for a book that is both compelling in its narration and fascinating in its subject matter (especially regarding the use of local and Caribbean traditional knowledge). However, I did feel that the human organ vs porcine organ donation subplot was not as well developed as it should have been. It is what moves the story along (the Premier is dying! Sacrifice a poor person, not a pig!) but I kept forgetting about it. Maybe this is a commentary on how we don't really think about the powers-that-be until their henchmen (tax men) come around asking for a pound of flesh (taxes). Stupid taxes, paying for stupid essential services. Yes, I think this book is actually about how we all hate taxes but if we don't pay them, Toronto will go bankrupt and end up like Detroit.
Bottom Line: Well written science fiction with a Creole twist. About taxes?
*Note that this is a review of the unabridged Audible edition of Brown Girl in the Ring, narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez.
For more of Kimchichi's reviews, check out her blog, The Curious Life of Ms Kimchichi.
This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.