Cynthia Kadohata explores human relationships in a Los Angeles of the future, where rich and poor are deeply polarized and where water, food, and gas, not to mention education, cannot be taken for granted. There is an intimate, understated, even gentle quality to Kadohata’s writing—this is not an apocalyptic dystopia—that makes it difficult to shrug off the version of the future embodied in her book.
This is yet again another book that I read for my university course North American Female Writers – once again, it is wonderfully diverse, and really forced me to really think about dystopian fiction as a whole and how ‘dystopia’ is becoming more and more like ‘reality’ these days.
First off, I think the blurb is a little bit misleading. I did see this as an apocalyptic dystopia. It isn’t your usual apocalypse, though – it is more gentle and realistic. It is around 2055, and the world is slowly dying from lack of water and clean air. Life spans are growing shorter. Strange black pearls are coming out of people’s skin. No one knows how to stop this, and so take each day as it comes, hoarding water and gas credits closely. Just because there isn’t a giant nuclear war or alien attack doesn’t mean that this isn’t apocalyptic.
It is really interesting to me that Kadohata chose to set it around 2055 – this is apparently when white people will be a minority in America. Our main character Francie is Asian-American, and the majority of the people around her are also people of colour. This is by no means the main focus of the novel, but it does work extraordinarily well with the emphasis on police brutality that runs throughout the book. Everyone is a target, because everyone must resort to petty crime to survive. It is a self-perpetuating system, and if that isn’t a comment on race relations in America, I don’t know what is. In my seminar, we talked about how In the Heart of the Valley of Love was based on the 1992 Rodney King riots – I would be extremely interested in Kadohata has to say about the increased public interest in the riots in America today.
All of this makes the novel sound quite depressing, but it isn’t really. It’s not uplifting either, but somehow it acts as a bit of a slice-of-life in apocalyptic Los Angeles. The novel drifts along – there’s no concrete plot or character development, really. This is more of a speculation of where we might be in thirty years time, if we continue on the path we’ve taken.
NB: my choice for POC on cover for Diversity Bingo 2017