Thursday, February 5, 2009

Put this woman in charge!

The Necessary Beggar
by Susan Palwick

Magic! This book is magic. It's the kind of book where you just want to give the author a Nobel Prize and let her rule the world because she just gets how it's supposed to be. Her book "Flying in Place" is a riveting, heartwrenching story of a young girl in a horrifying family situation. It was the kind of really good book that's really hard to read -- and I didn't even have children when I read it.


The Necessary Beggar is quite a different book. The family in question is colourful and close-knit, and they come from a world called Lemabantunk (bit of a mouthful). Their world is primitive by many of our standards, but beautiful and enlightened -- most people spend a year as a Mendicant, a sacred beggar who lives by the kindness of strangers. Weddings include the Ritual of the Necessary Beggar, which is a reminder of civic duty and a fertility rite, reminding the couple that they must welcome their children as 'squalling strangers'. At the beginning of the story, the family has been exiled from their world through a gate which leads to other worlds, and leads them to ours. The reason for their exile is the supposed murder by Darroti of a sacred beggar woman named Gallicina.


The family comes into our world and is immediately interned in a refugee camp in a war-riven and fear-filled near future. The story revolves around the different reactions of the family members to their exile and their new life, and the people whose kindness helps them start over. There are also flashbacks to their old world and its legends and rituals, and the real story of what happened with Darroti and Gallicina. Zamatryna, one of the youngest members of the family, plays a pivotal role in the family's search for redemption.


The themes of exile and immigration, transgression and forgiveness, are sensitively treated in this book. I love the blessing of the Necessary Beggar: "For what you have given me, your errors and those of all your kin are forgiven. For charity heals shortcoming, and kindness heals carelessness, and hearts heal hurt." Okay, maybe it's a little simplistic. I was interested by the fact that the Utopian world of Lemabantunk was so far behind our world technologically as well -- is there an accepted perception in sci-fi/fantasy that technology equals some sort of fatal fall? Are we doomed to a world of war and alienation if we drive cars and use microwaves? Either way -- the story was beautiful, and uplifting. I wanted it to be real.

1 comment:

alison said...

Sounds interesting. I'll have to put in a request at the library.

Oh, and in response to your comment on my blog - I love Minette Walters, she's right up there with P.D. James and Reginald Hill. No one does mystery like the Brits.