The Broken Earth triology, written by N.K. Jemisin, took me to Earth more than 25,000 years in the future for an agonizing, captivating and ultimately inspiring revolution. The last lines of the third and final tale quoted above have a beautiful irony to them as they are spoken by a Stone Eater, a being who is so deeply connected to the Earth itself that he will live as long as the Earth continues to be alive–the kind of lifespan that gives an entirely different meaning to concepts of time and patience!
Jemisin is a truly gifted storyteller. It is no simple thing to take readers farther into our future than we can easily imagine, introduce new principles of social and physical science alongside magic, and then tackle the history and politics of oppression and social change. Jemisin’s writing draws you into a complicated and raw story and I found myself re-reading a page or setting the book down at times, but I also found myself smiling knowingly and affirming what I was reading with a loud “Yes!”
Jemisin’s lived experience, her training as a psychologist, and her talents with the written word give these books depth as they communicate the dangers, pain and politics of racism. One powerful example from the third and final book, The Stone Sky:
There are stages to the process of being betrayed by your society. One is jolted from a place of complacency by the discovery of difference, by hypocrisy, be inexplicable or incongruous ill treatment. What follows is a time of confusion–unlearning what one thought to be truth. Immersing oneself in a new truth. And then a decision must be made. Some accept their fate. Swallow their pride, forget the real truth, embrace the falsehood for all they’re worth—because, they decide, they cannot be worth much. If a whole society has dedicated itself to their subjugation, after all, then surely they deserve it? Even if they don’t, fighting back is too painful, too impossible. At least this way there is a peace, of a sort. Fleetingly. The alternative is to demand the impossible. It isn’t right, they whisper, weep, shout; what has been done to them is not right. They are not inferior. They do not deserve it. And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way, too, but not before conflict. No one reaches this place without a false start or two.
Beginning with the first novel, The Fifth Season, the central character, after protesting an injustice, asked what she is looking for thinks: “A way to change things. Because this is not right.” Her journey to the revolutionary action of making things right will resonate with many. Along the way there are junctures where it becomes necessary for her to turn and make a make a new start, changing identity and direction. The key to her process of understanding the possible future includes learning a richer and truer set of stories about the past. Some of her experiences along the way deplete her physically and emotionally and spiritually, and others fill her up. As she practices she becomes more adept at reaching for the forces that fill her up, making forward movement possible. Still, she has to be reminded time and again of the importance of that forward movement. She fully experiences what it means for things to get worse before they can get better. The possibility of change is finally realized when she is able to clearly see what is all around her and make choices based in love.
If these books haven’t already made it to your reading list, consider pre-ordering the “boxed set” that will be available in October from your favorite independent bookstore. You can find them here: Broken Earth trilogy