Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

From Goodreads:
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.

Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.
Writing
Absolutely nothing but raves.  This is absolutely stunning.  And, in a very refreshing way, a challenge to read.  I don't mean in terms of content, although there is some sex and some violence.  I mean it was a workout for my mind - something that I really thoroughly enjoy.  It was hard enough to wrap my brain around that, even though I took it with me to Chicago, I didn't have the mental energy to read it after helping my sister-in-law with the kids all day. (BTW: have I mentioned lately how much I respect moms? Especially stay-at-home moms?  I bow to each of you).

But back to the book. It's set in the future and definitely has some speculative elements and a very surreal feel to it.  I think the best way to read it is to just accept that you won't understand everything that is happening as it happens.  I spent probably the first half of the book re-reading and trying to figure out exactly what was going on and if I'd missed something.  I finally gave in and just read it without fully grasping every detail, and I'm glad I did because things really come together in the last fifty pages.  My questions were all answered and the experience of it all coming together was a rush.

I've seen comparisons to Erin Morgenstern, and, while that's not necessarily the first place I'd go for a comparison, I think in terms of quality writing this definitely deserves significant recognition.  I'm reaching for my own comparative author and struggling, just because this story is so uniquely written.  It's very literary, and tackles all kinds of political, religious, racial, sexual, and cultural ideas in a very subtle way.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, this is a difficult read.  It's something I couldn't event attempt to tackle on less than my best brain days.  Things get off to a somewhat slow start, largely because the reader doesn't have all the information needed to fully understand what's happening.  The sooner you can let go of that need, the sooner you'll start to really enjoy the book.  I also recommend enjoying the beauty of the words and really trying to connect with the characters.  I don't feel like I accomplished this until late in the book because I was too busy trying to figure out plot lines that you just can't figure out without completing the book.  It's definitely something I'm going to have to reread with a fuller understanding.

Overall
You'll be doing yourself favor in terms of stretching your brain by reading this one.  It's also just a well of beautiful language, and I think that, like The Night Circus, this is something aspiring writers should read, just to get taste of beautiful words.  I think it's also ideal for fans of speculative fiction, particularly those who enjoy their futuristic novels with a large emphasis on the more literary side of things.

I received a copy of this book for review courtesy of Blogging for Books.

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