Dystopian, Fiction

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What I love about dystopian novels is that each is unique in the way they describe the destruction of the old world. Each one has its own take on the degradation that took place to create the world where the story exists. It means that the reader has no idea what to expect – and those are the best kind of novels. I had no idea what I was getting into with this book … but now I do. Here is my review:

Vanja, a government worker, leaves her home city of Essre for the austere, winter colony of Amatka on a research assignment. Her job is to look into hygiene standards to determine how well-received new hygiene products would be in this commune. However, Vanja finds it hard to get answers: the people here are more guarded than in Essre, and citizens are constantly monitored for signs of subversion. Vanja planned on staying for only 3 weeks. However, she didn’t expect to fall in love with her housemate, Nina. Things seemed pleasant at first. But when Vanja stumbles upon evidence of a growing threat to the colony, she begins an investigation that puts her – and the residents of Amatka – at risk. In Amatka, language has the power to shape reality. Unless objects, buildings, and the surrounding landscape are repeatedly named, and named properly, everything will fall apart. Trapped in the repressive colony, Vanja dreams of using language to break free, but her individualism may well threaten the very fabric of reality.

This novel had an interesting premise and concept. The idea that language shapes the world is one that is prevalent among sociologists but it is a concept that is not really considered by many people. The idea to base a story on this is remarkable and I think the author created a very provocative novel here. The writing style is unique in that it doesn’t actually tell you things straight to your face. The information needs to be gleaned through careful reading and connecting of the different clues laid out by the author. The magnanimity of the situation at hand only becomes clear as you continue to read the story. The ability to make the reader think deeper is not easy to do, but the author does it here effortlessly. For those reasons, I loved the prose and writing style employed here. This is not a fast-paced story and you will be sorely disappointed if you are looking for a high-intensity action novel. This didn’t bother me in the slightest because the pacing worked to convey the intent of this novel. However, I wasn’t as happy with the characters. It was very difficult to connect with Vanja (or any of the characters). All of the characters were aloof and it was hard for me as a reader to understand them. While I understand that the dystopian world in this novel discourages emotional connection, I thought the author could still have found a way to make the characters feel things in a way that would make sense to the reader. This lack of emotional connection is especially problematic when considering the relationship between Vanja and Nina: there didn’t seem to be any. I didn’t expect there to be a full blown romance but the interactions between these 2 characters was not strong enough for me to feel they were in love. However, this was the only real negative I could find with this novel. Overall, this is a compelling and interesting story that will really force the reader to think deeply on the various themes that come into focus in the novel. I’m giving this a 4/5 stars because it deeply resonated with me; this is a story I am not likely to forget any time soon!

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