I’ve just read this book for the second time, with as much pleasure, fascination and admiration as the first time.
If perfect, universal books don’t exist, perfect reads actually do, and « Barsk » was one for me. An outstanding read, that I’ll keep in a special place, to re read and recommend.
To begin with, the writing is flawless. The kind of writing that would make any story, even without any fantastic or science-fi elements in it, delightful to read. A story told in an easy flow, with extraordinary credible and vivid characters, and a subtle manner to instill facts along the goings-on. All this makes for a splendid read… the imaginative and brilliant science-fi was the icing on the cake!
This capacity of writing about the ordinary lives of normal-extraordinary people isn’t so usual, and reminded of one of my favourite author, Daryl Gregory.
But to come back to our elephants (would have been much more spiritual in French, as we say « revenir à ses moutons » – « comme back to ones sheep » to say » get back to the topic in hand »; too bad). I’ve always had a soft spot for altered humans but, until now, I was rarely, if ever, convinced by animal-human (or raised mammals) in science-fi literature. (A rare exception: the fabulous series « The Tide Lords » by Jennifer Fallon; so fun, so bright!). Maybe because of my job (I’m a vet) or because of too much or, at the contrary, not enough efforts put in this new kind og humanity, I often found animalish humains ridicule, cardboard-cutout in those stories – or worse, simply forgot that they’re not supposed to be classic humans. The treatment of the people in « Barsk » (fants – elephants -, but also plenty other new animalish species, is absolutely perfect. Their body language, and uses of their bodies, especially with their ears and trunk for the fants, seem so natural that we never forget about what they look like, while forgetting being reading some fiction! (I’ve always believed that I missed a second pair of arms; but in fact I’m now quite sure I miss a trunk; so useful! so multi-purpose!).
The implicit universel themes of racism, banishment, prejudice, of rejection of what and who is considered as an anomaly are broached very delicately, never moralizing or unduly transparent. For this point, I was frequently brought back to another of my favourite reads, « Earth’s children » by Jean M. Auel.
The characters are all fantastic, so various and complex, illustrating perfectly the depths of human nature, its weaknesses and strengths, its politics, family ties and friendships. The main characters are all likeable, without being perfect, and one of the more important one, Pizlo, the child not supposed to be alive, shunned by nearly everybody, is incredible moving. Impossible not to love this precocious child, autonomous and free, living the life all fants deny him, nursing his passions and abilities in his own special way. I always applaud an author capable to show a gifted child, endowed with an outstanding intelligence, without making him speak and behave like a mini adult. Pizlo in very young, not even six years old, and for all his brilliance is still a small adorabl child!
Another thing I loved in the book: the main idea, about nefshons, could have make the story look-liked half science-fi half fantasy – a mix I don’t appreciate much. But in fact, the whole concept of this book (and the second one that I’m currently reading while writing this review) has a perfectly clear scientific vibe, complex but coherent and credible. A feat!
« Barsk » shows incredibly original and intricate ideas, but never overwhelming. Another accomplishment! The alternative point of view, which I frequently distrust, here serves the story to perfection. The reader doesn’t need to make any special effort, the rotation of narratives never frustrates them, as is used to tell the story in a very linear fashion. For such a complex world and intricate story it’s surprisingly easy to keep tract of all the characters and to understand the story’s developement: All things come to those who wait…
I could probably rave about « Barsk » on and on, but I must stop somewhere, so let it be!
A book I warmly recommend to all people who love original and strong concepts and ideas woven is a finely detailed imagined world, with impeccable characters, alive, complex, who will accompany the reader for a very long time.
(French review here)