The City & The City
- China Meiville -
This was one of those books I've heard about so many times. It seems to pop up in discussion, I noticed it won the Hugo award, and I've put it on a list in my head of books to read one day. Well, I finally got to it, mostly out of default. I won an ereader and wanted to try taking an ebook out of the library. A quick search of available books brought up a bunch I had never heard of that looked very, very, very awful. So, when I came to The City & The City, the first book I recognized, I quickly downloaded it. Thank goodness I did.
The book is like an onion, not that it'll make you cry, but it has many layers. The more you peel the closer you get to the core. The story progression was fantastic. It goes from what appears to be a simple murder to near world destruction...almost. If you like dystopian books like 1984, you'll love this. It is set in a dystopian style society where there is a guy who knows the rules yet consciously breaks them. Then has to deal with the 'big brother' power. However, this books ends much happier.
The 'big brother' in this book is called 'Breach', and Breach will come and get you only if you break one rule - crossing the border.
Doesn't sound like that hard of a rule?
The problem is that the border crisscrosses and sometimes overlaps throughout a city. Sometimes one building will be in one country while the building next door is in the other. Some of the streets are 'crosshatched', which means used by both countries...however, the citizens cannot acknowledge one another. The border, effectively, extends into their minds.
This idea makes the beginning of the book very confusing as the characters describe 'unseeing' things and use strange terms like 'crosshatching' or 'gyrotopical'...even 'unsmelling' the smells of cooking from the other country - which could be the restaurant right next door. But, as the story progresses this is all explained in time and things start to fall into place. This steep learning curve, with all the new terminology, is one of those things that makes the book so rewarding.
I found the story so well written that even though I know there is no place like this on earth I could still picture exactly where it was on a map - like one of those small strange countries in Eastern Europe that used to be part of the USSR.
The subtle hints of where this country would fit in the real world were expertly thrown in to the conversations of the characters. References to the political ties with Canada and the isolation from the US, foreign investment from Europe, and an immigration problem with Turkey. Meiville paints a detailed portrait of this country in the imagination that is so realistic it left me the uncomfortable feeling that I was ignorant of a country that really existed.