Our Memory Like Dust by Gavin Chait (book review)

July 27, 2017 | By | Reply More

In the middle of the twenty-first century, war and drought still ravage Africa and millions of people are displaced and heading towards an unwelcoming Europe. Giant energy corporations battle over profits and governments struggle to provide answers to any of mankind’s problems while Jihadis run rampage over much of Northern Africa. Despite all of these all-too-familiar problems forming the background of ‘Our Memory Like Dust’, Gavin Chait has not written a gritty tale of gloom and disaster but a surprisingly uplifting novel of determination and innovation.

Several story strands are woven together throughout the novel and, from the beginning, it is evident that they are related, though how the various characters and scenarios interrelate only starts to come clear towards the middle of the book. It’s very subtly done as characters finally meet up or refer back to previous incidents and it becomes clear how everything in the book is intertwined.

Shakiso is an aid worker, has grown up in the world of international aid and finds herself in several dangerous, war-torn lands in the course of her job. After a particularly traumatic incident, she is enticed back to work in Senegal, where the great migration of Seekers heading for Europe has resulted in an agglomeration of millions of refugees. Shakiso is smart and experienced and fits well into the local mix of African cultures but, even so, she begins to realise that what she and the aid agencies are trying to do is not necessarily the help that the refugees want or need.

Simon is a millionaire businessman whose investments in subversive software and technologies have given him the money to develop sustainable technologies that are invaluable to the poor displaced masses in Senegal. The cheap electricity from his Saharan solar farms make him a target of Russian power companies, the Chinese government and a Jihadi organisation. All three foes have varying relationships which change throughout the book, keeping you guessing as to who is in league with whom and whether Simon will succeed in his philanthropic aims.

In the background are several other characters involved in peripheral stories: Simon’s brother, one of the first Martian colonists; several of the Seekers travelling across North Africa; various members of Shakiso’s and Simon’s organisations. Behind all of them, appearing randomly and often serendipitously is Gaw Gon the griot, the storyteller, who tells of Baboon and Painted Dog’s child and the genii of the land, whose stories include other tales that reflect the lives of those to whom he speaks. How much those tales are prophetic or merely reflective is quite blurry, as are the reality and influence of the genii. All of these different strands of the story are folded together into a multi-layered narrative that builds momentum and depth and inexorably draws the reader in.

Several aspects of Senegalese language and culture are sprinkled through the book, adding a richness to the vocabulary and an intensity to the settings. Individual stories help to define the lives of the vast crowd of refugees, so that they don’t blur into a shapeless mass as can often happen in the face of human crisis and tragedy. There is a dignity to this book, a quiet power and charm that breathes life into its pages. The conclusion pulls all of the story’s strands together into a fulfilling denouement. There is justice of varying sorts, poignancy, satisfaction, hope and determination. This is a book of prophetic realism, determined optimism and magical storytelling that sets it apart as a work that should be read and appreciated.

Gareth D Jones

July 2017

(pub: Doubleday/Penguin/Random House. 382 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85752-368-6)

check out website: www.doubleday.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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