It’s disingenuous to pretend we don’t select a book looking for a certain experience, and have a loose feel for the kind of story parameters we’re looking for. I might feel like a murder mystery, a dark thriller, a fast-moving space opera or a paranormal romance, and while we may insist on avoiding spoilers, every story comes with expectations for how it will behave. I think a long history of reading and many many books might be why I’ve been in a phase where I look for the intersection of the curious and the fantastical and that’s just about where Rosewater strolls.
One of my uncontested pleasures while reading was the process of building a picture of the world in my head, much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. I knew it was science fiction, I knew it was generating some buzz as part of the African sci-fi that’s been hitting the major publishers–finally. But that’s about all I knew, that and the recommendation that Dan 2.Ω thought, “it seems like a carol book.” And it was.
So the question becomes, do you want to read it? Depends on those above-mentioned things, right? I felt like Thompson focused on character and setting, so if you don’t have a lot of tolerance for trying to build a world in your mind, this might not work. There is a plot, and while it contains secrets, surveillance and state control, it is by no means a thriller. Nor, come to think of it, does it develop that particularly suspenseful feeling of dread. Part of this might be due to the narrator, Kaaro. Told in first person, it seems like he has always been emotionally distanced from those around him, even his parents. The voice sounds somewhat clinical, but often lacking the curiosity that might propel him farther, faster.
But the setting is intriguing as well. I’ve found one of the best places these days to explore the unknown territory of stories is to look to stories by authors who have often been left out of traditionally published storytelling. Though it’s set in a Nigeria of the not-all-that far future, it still feels very much like modern Nigeria, and indeed, Thompson has lived for long periods in both Nigeria and England.
“That I have somewhere to sit on this train is evidence of the draw of the Opening. The carriages are usually full to bursting and hot, not from heaters, but from body heat and exhalations and despair.”
Perhaps one concern I have of the story is some of the same ones I have for the old-school white male writers: for a future that includes such marvels, the rest of the culture has not changed significantly. Though the narrator is not homophobic, the culture remains legally and culturally so. On a similar note, some thought Kaaro was a bit of a sexist, but I found it to be no worse than typical male chauvinism (see Jim Butcher) and done in such a way that it was both indicative of his personality and emblematic of his social disconnect.
“He starts to talk shop, telling me of a near-intrusion. He looks to be in his twenties, still excited about being a sensitive, finding everything new and fresh and interesting, the opposite of cynical, the opposite of me.”
There’s a lot of layers in here; because it is about Kaaro undergoing an eye-opening experience, it ends up being an interesting but subtle social commentary as well. I ended up making several uncomfortable parallels with other books while reading it, but all of that should be spoiler material. Interesting stuff that I’d recommend to intersectional sci-fi readers, or those more literary fictional ones who might stray into the sci-fi world.
Huge thanks to Dan 2.Ω who sent a copy my way and encouraged me! Many thanks to both Nataliya and Samuel for the buddy read and the interesting discussion!