Noah Hawley – Anthem

Noah Hawley – Anthem

All over the country, teenagers are committing suicide, leaving a note that says “A11” which does not make sense to the adults. While America sinks into chaos with violence ruling the streets, a group superrich enjoys their peaceful life. Some individuals still believe in the constitution, thinks that with the established structures, they can do something to turn the situation around, to make a change. Among them is Margot Burr-Nadir who is about to be appointed to the Supreme Court. She has strong convictions and is well-meaning but the disappearance of her daughter Story also occupies her mind. While some still hope for a future, it much rather seems as if the last day of mankind has arrived.

I was so looking forward to Noah Hawley’s next novel and “Anthem” sounded like a luring effigy of the world we are heading to. Now, in March 2022, I had to start the novel three times until I could finish it. Neither the author nor the book is to blame, reality which has overtaken Hawley’s imagination at a tearing pace is. This was simply not a good moment for me to read a dystopia in which single persons accept the destruction of countries, of lives, to reach their personal goals.

“Anthem” portrays the USA in a state not much different from reality, just a step further. I liked Hawley’s thoughts and direct addresses to the reader in the story, especially that moment where he ponders about how you can write a satirical text while reality is the best satire (referring to people complaining about how masks limit their personal liberty). Well, that was yesterday, if we thought that after two years of pandemic nothing could shock us anymore – surprise, surprise.

Stories of the deep state, a global conspiracy of the rich and the powerful, people living within and yet outside society captured in their own frame of belief built on bits and pieces gathered here and there – there is nothing unthinkable anymore. We have seen all of that wondering where it might lead ultimately – and how the next generation might react to it. The aspect of collective suicide since there is no hope, no future anymore is persuading: what has this world to offer them? News, fake news, alternating news – what can you believe? Bombings, attacks, wars, violence – when is your turn to be hit? There is a small group of teenagers, courageously following their ideals, showing empathy and thus bringing some hope to the plot. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine this happening right now.

There is so much in the novel to ponder about. Noah Hawley without a doubt greatly developed aspects of the present into his dystopian future, showing how closely he observes the world he lives in and touching sensitive issues which should lead us to react before it is too late. Unfortunately, the novel did not come at the right moment for me to really enjoy it.

Chloe Benjamin – The Immortalists

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Chloe Benjamin – The Immortalists

In summer 1969, the four Gold kids are still young. Varya is only 13, Daniel 11, Klara 9 and Simon just 7. It is the last summer they spend together before the eldest do not want to play with younger ones anymore. But it is also the summer that will change their lives and determine their fates. Having eavesdropped a couple of boys they head to a house where a gipsy woman is telling the future. The kids all just have one question: when will I die? They each get an answer, an exact date. But instead of just laughing and forgetting about it and not taking it seriously, this information will always loom over them.

The novel received a lot of attention and was highly acclaimed before being published. What starts as a story about four kids and a strange prediction, turns into one of the best novels of the last years. After the opening scene, Chloe Benjamin tells the siblings‘ stories, starting with the youngest who is predicted to die first. Each has a singular life, an interesting character and their story blends perfectly with societal developments of their times. Not only a cleverly constructed plot, but also relevant questions about what is important in life, how much do family bonds count and how free are you in shaping your life -and what is determined by fate?

You always wait in a story staring with the presentation of a group of characters for who will turn out to be the most intriguing, the most interesting and the one with the biggest crisis. Benjamin treats the four kids equally. Astonishingly, the moment when each is taking over, he or she becomes really the centre, the focus of everything. Thus, we do not get the development if the others which makes a lot of secrets revealed only later as well as many situations being judged from one perspective when there are actually several points of view which allow you to see a situation also in a completely different way.

The story is often sad, full of despair and emotion. It is hard to say how Benjamin makes you completely indulge in it, but you feel with the characters, you can sense their loss and thus get a wonderful novel to read. Exceptional writing paired with a cleverly constructed novel, carefully drawn characters and the smooth insertion of important topics – is there anything more a reader could wish for?

Omar El Akkad – American War

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Omar El Akkad – American War

Louisiana, April 2075. The Second American War is raging. Sarat Chestnut is too young to fully understand what is going on, but even at her age she understands that times are hard: half of the state is underwater, food is scarce and they are not free to move. Nevertheless, her father wants to go north, where climate is less challenging and where his family can have a future. Another attack kills this dream and Sarat has to flee with her mother, her twin sister and her elder brother to a refugee camp. In Camp Patience, some kind of normal life can be established and from just a weeks of survival become years. People organise themselves according to the new circumstances, however, the chances of enduring peace are small. And, with the time, the danger of another fierce attack grows and Sarat, now a teenager, is in a different position from when her father was killed. She has to witness the worst human behaviour imaginable and this leaves a mark on her. She is not the same person anymore and she will seek revenge for what has been done to her, her family, her people.

Set at some point in the future, Omar El Akkad’s novel is nonetheless easy to imagine. The challenges due to climate change are not that fancy that you could not easily believe them. Since mankind is more prone to securing comfort than thinking ahead for future generations, having vast spaces of land destroyed will definitely be a reality sooner or later. That this – or something completely different – might lead to a civil war even in the United States, is not that inconceivable, either. We have seen many states crumble and fall in the last few years. We can only hope that the novel is much closer to fiction than to reality.

The most striking aspect is of course the protagonist Sarat. We first meet her as a young girl, naive and unaware of most of what happens around her. She is guided by her mother who already shows how powerful women of that family can be. The older she becomes, the stronger she gets. As a teenager, we have a courageous girl who is not only unafraid, but also clever and eager to understand what is going on. This not only saves her life but also makes her the woman she will be later. What she has to witness and go through, strengthens her conviction. As a grown-up woman, especially when she is in prison, we meet an unfaltering and determined woman who cannot be destroyed. Yet, she remains human, she has not completely lost faith in mankind and still can do some good – in her very own understanding.

The experience of war and human beings losing all social behaviour and sympathy for others is what determines the characters’ actions. Sarat realised that

“the misery of war represented the world’s truly universal language” (Pos. 2985) and “The universal slogan of war, she’d learned, was simple: If it had been you, you’d have done no different.”

This dystopian view of the world is the only lesson we can learn from watching the news. In accepting the wars around us, we produce generations who are branded by the experiences and thus ready to do harm in the same way. We should not need novels to illustrate this simple calculation.