In my last WOGF reading challenge review, I remarked on how one of the main points of Native Tongue gets bogged down amidst all the other plot threads Suzette Haden Elgin tries to bring together. That point being the attempt of a group of women Linguists to create their own language, a necessary thing given their oppression. Andrea Hairston brings up a similar point in her 2006 debut novel Mindscape and does so in one sharply written paragraph–one amongst many.
All the thugs is laughin’ at me, but I don’t go off. I take a deep breath, work calm in my center, like Ray Valero do to act. Ethnic throwbacks be like the ole Israelis bringin’ back Hebrew after two thousand years, after so many words was fightin’ against ’em. Why anybody wanna speak the truth, raise they children, know themselves with gas chamber language? Survival be havin’ words to call home, havin’ idioms and syntax to heal the Diaspora. In your cultural rhythm and rhyme, that’s where the soul keep time. — Lawanda Kitt, p. 51
The rest of Mindscape is like that: a lot of heavy things said that, at least to me, doesn’t get lost in a stew of wobbly prose.
Mindscape is a complex tale of a future Earth dealing with the aftermath of the invasion of some sort of alien/magical barrier that has cut the planet into several regions that can no longer interact with each other except for when seasonal corridors open up in the Barrier. All of these regions are constantly at war until a seer/prophet/something named Celestina convinces everyone to sign a peace treaty, ushering in a new era, presumably. She is then assassinated.
So much for the prologue.
The rest of the book concerns the aftermath of the treaty signing. Like I said, it’s complex and Hairston leads us through with the help of five perspectives: Elleni, Celestina’s spirit-daughter who might not be completely human; Lawanda Kitt, an ambassador called upon to interact with the rulers of a rival region; The Major, a man of mixed loyalties, one of which is Lawanda; Ray Valero, a celebrated actor who finds himself in the position of having to be a real hero; and Aaron Dunkelbrot, an entertainment producer with an interesting past.
Through these five people, Hairston shows us a dystopian world where epidemics rage, poor people who don’t have the “right” appearance become Extras in snuff films, “ethnic throwbacks” fight to not be disappeared while gene-art mutations flourish, and a chosen few try to communicate with the Barrier to figure out its plans.
I enjoyed Mindscape quite a bit. Hairston’s prose is delightful and her characters are strong and interesting. The story carried me right along, and her insights into race and culture never felt preachy or heavyhanded. My only complaint might be that the ending felt a little rushed with a ton of plot threads coming together all at once. It’s a minor complaint, though, and I’m looking forward to reading her novel from 2011, Redwood and Wildfire. 4.85/5
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