Hearts, Hands And Voices

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 4 stars

The Land is the last province of a dying Empire. It has had advanced biotechnology for a thousand years, but this land that should be paradise is riven by the same old evils of religious and nationalist violence. This is the story of Mathembe Fileli and her family who are made refugees in the conflict and Mathembe’s trials and tribulations as she loses one after another of her relatives and has to rely only on herself to get through them all and find her family again.

Like his first novel, Desolation Road, this is a very lyrical book. McDonald knows the rules of English very well, and knows exactly when and how he can break them with impunity. This makes for an exhilarating read. Mathembe, who has chosen never to speak, is a fascinating character who is very easy to empathise with, and the descriptions of the Land and Empire are wonderful; McDonald did a very neat trick of starting with a very narrow focus to his story and then slowly widened it so that you see the narrowness of the protagonist’s world just as she does and your field of vision expands with hers. There’s tantalising glimpses of the fact that there’s an outside world beyond the Land and Empire and they are watching and judging, something that grounds the book in reality for me.

Finally, the religious/nationalist conflict of the book is one that was reasonably close to home for me, and, I imagine, the author, given that he’s lived most of his life in Northern Ireland.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575050617
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1992

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