Review posted May 26, 2014.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 246 pages.
This book takes place in the not-so-distant future in Koyanagar, a country carved out of India. For years, India had a one-child policy – with the result that baby girls were aborted so families could have sons. Now the ratio is 5 boys to 1 girl, and girls are at a premium.
Koyanagar was founded by women to make things right. But essentially, they’ve just turned the tables. Men have no rights. The best jobs and money go to women. And now Sudasa is facing the Tests – where one of the five boys competing to marry her will prove his worth.
The losers will face a life with no prospects. They will give their lives on the Wall, keeping others out (or keeping people in), unless they have sisters who can bargain for their lives.
But she has every indication that the tests are rigged.
I picked up this book because the language is enchanting. Sudasa’s thoughts are written in poetry, and it’s poetry with creative touches and interesting typography. Her thoughts are interspersed with prose from Contestant Five – who has plans of his own, and has no intention of being chosen.
I have some arguments with the book. I found it hard to believe that a society founded to right injustice would turn out so very unjust itself. Men are second-class citizens, and their lives are cheap. Giving birth to girls is now the only way to gain status. Besides that, with the poetry format, some details were unclear. There’s a Registry that’s important to the leaders of the country, and it’s not clear why it is so important or what it’s loss would actually mean. I wasn’t clear exactly how things were going to work out at the end or even exactly what the characters meant to do.
However, that said, the writing in this book is simply beautiful. It’s short (with so much written in poetry), so I didn’t at all feel cheated having given my time to reading it. Although I didn’t buy all the details, I was won over by the characters and enjoyed spending time in their company.