Tag Archives: Africa

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

Saturday Seven: Rabbit Tales

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Happy Easter to everyone who is celebrating that holiday this weekend! Rabbits are the first thing I think about when Easter comes to mind, so I thought I’d talk about them today. Since rabbits are my favourite animal of all time, it always makes me happy to see representations of them in books, cards, plush toys, candies, and so many other places at this time of the year.

The vast majority of the stories out there about rabbits are bedtime stories written for young children. I genuinely have no idea why that is the case. Today I tried to come up with as many examples as possible of books that were written for older audiences. No one is ever too old to like rabbits, and there are many different ways to write about this animal.

I mean, I’ve been a proper adult for years now, but I still get irrationally excited whenever a rabbit is nearby. They’re such soft fluffy, and often hilariously stubborn little creatures. If not for my unfortunate allergy to them, I’d have at least two or three of them hopping around my house and getting into mischief right this minute.

The Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Nearly everyone has heard of Peter Rabbit. If you liked that story, you might really enjoy the author’s less widely known works, too. What I appreciated the most about The Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit was that all of the naughty things the rabbit did in it happened for a reason. He was a smart little creature who knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Make sure you have a full box of tissues ready to go ahead of time. This is a real tearjerker, but it’s also one of my favourite stories of all time. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it’s about a toy rabbit who was deeply loved by a little boy. After the boy was diagnosed with scarlet fever, all of the toys in his room were sent away to be burned to prevent the spread of that awful disease.

What happened to the toy rabbit next is why I read this tale over and over again.

 

Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from South Africa by Gerald McDermott

This was a story I accidentally stumbled across at my local library a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of the legend of Zomo the Rabbit before, but I loved seeing how he used his wits to outsmart creatures much larger and stronger than he was.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I know this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Watership Down on a Saturday Seven post, but it simply had to be included in this week’s list.

The bunnies in this story were courageous and kind. This was almost like a rabbit’s version of The Hobbit or some other epic adventure that required facing many dangers before the heroes had any hope at all of accomplishing their mission.

Disapproving Rabbits by Sharon Stiteler

Many years ago, there used to be a blog called “Disapproving Rabbits” that shared pictures of rabbits looking surly, annoyed, or like they disapproved of everything their humans were doing. That site sadly no longer exists, but this book is a collection of many of the photos that were featured on it back in the day.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The empathy in this story was beautiful. Grief and loss are difficult subjects for many adults to talk about, so I loved the fact that the authors wrote something explaining those things to young children who are even more bewildered by them than us grown-ups are.

Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature by Susan E. Davis

This is a book that I’ve actually been trying to get ahold of for quite a while now, although I’ll almost certainly skip the section about how and why rabbits are slaughtered for human consumption. With that being said, learning more about the history, sociology, and folklore of rabbits appeals to me quite a bit in general.

Have you ever had a pet rabbit? What is your favourite animal in general?