Monday, June 7, 2010

thirty-seven

The City & The City

Slight spoiler alert - skip this paragraph if you don't want any info about the book:

When you walk past a homeless person and have no money on you, do you mumble some platitude explaining your situation? Show some sympathy and grimace/nod? Pretend you don't see them? What if they also pretended not to see you? What if the only way you could occupy the same city was to go about your life pretending they don't exist, unseeing them. The City and the City asks that question, and imagines an entire city existing like this. Pretend the Palestinians and the Israelis both inhabited Jerusalem, divided between two countries block by block, with certain streets and squares shared between the two nationalities. Now fast forward to generations from now, where all inhabitants have been taught how to unsee the buildings, inhabitants, lights, cars, and activity of the "foreign" occupants of a country that exists all around your home. You beep at your countryman's car as he cuts you off, but when you have to drive around the car of a foreigner waiting to make a left turn, you pretend it's not there and thoughtlessly drive around it. What would be required to keep this mass illusion and delusion humming? What would the rest of the world think?

End of spoilers.

I was impressed by China MiƩville's answers to these questions. Clever writing, interesting new ideas, unexpected turns. The main character is a police detective investigating a murder, and the hunt for the killer, while somewhat transparent, becomes this fascinating exploration of his City, and the foreign City he's been able to ignore his whole life. When he starts digging deeper, even archeological digs become interesting. At times it jumped around a little too much, and dwelled unexpectedly, but these faults were more than overcome by the originality of the ideas and truly fascinating vocabulary he uses to convey the existences of the citizens of both cities.

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