Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Blood Runs in the Water: L. J. Adlington, The Diary of Pelly-D, (London: Hodder Children's Books, 2005).

I dislike allegory.
I dislike Holocaust literature even more.
L. J. Adlington has written a book which is essentially an sf version of The Diary of Anne Frank.

I love it.

It's taken me days to blog on this one because first of all I had to calm down and settle my distress. Adlington has really pulled off something quite special here. The book starts when Toni V, a young worker on a construction site, finds a diary. As he reads more of it, the book, and Toni V's thoughts, interact to build the world around us.

We gradually learn that we are on a different planet and that the humans on this planet have been adapted for the climate. They have gills and need/want to swim pretty much all the time. Water is crucial to their economy and their culture. Apart from that, there seems to have been a war. Toni V is involved in reconstruction, Pelly-D, the author of the diary, was a rich and pretty high school student.

What happens in Pelly-D's life is that two Cities become bellicose. One sees itself as genetically superior because it's population carries an expressed gene--Adlington never tells us what this gene does, and there is some speculation that it might not do anything. This City, City One, begins demanding help for a water shortage. Meanwhile in Pelly-D's City Three, while the demands of City One are eventually resisted, the politicians begin to make use of the same gene-ist rhetoric of their opponents. One of the fascinating tricks Adlington pulls is that those who are discriminated against in City Three, cannot call what is happening racism because there is no insult worse than racist.

Pelly-D finds that while her Dad carries the all important gene, she and the rest of the family don't. This isn't a tale of heroism. Dad deserts his family, allows them to be moved to a ghetto (the artists quarter, because all of this gene type is considered artistic) and he does nothing to help or rescue them when it becomes clear that their lives are threatened.

The diary ends there, but it's impact extends into the future. Toni V starts to think about who can and cant afford things; what it is he and his friends are digging over and destroying and he begins to wonder why. At the end, he wonders what has happened to the people who once lived here and realises that he may be part of the Final Solution.

What makes this book work is the way Adlington unfolds the world. Pelly-D's diary is incomplete, it tells only what a high school girl would think to tell, there are no info dumps. Similarly, what Toni V can tell us is bound by his knowledge of the world. The book is actually a useful reminder of how little even the complicit can know of genocide.

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"those who are discriminated against in City Three cannot call what is happening racism because there is no insult worse than racist."

NH: Great observation, that. It's what happens right now.

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