I’ve finished my second whole book on the Kobo and am plowing into my third. Yet for the past few days I’ve been wrestling with how to talk about A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar. I had to read a couple outside reviews to nail down my feelings. The positive one points out that it’s a love letter to books and reading, while at the same time exploring the tension between history, literate societies and oral societies. The frustrated one more mirrors my own experience, in that I spent most of the novel irritated by the ponderously layered language and cultural constructs, and by the “boy meets dying girl, dead girl haunts boy, boy falls in love but must set both of them free” plot.
That’s not actually a spoiler, that’s the jacket summary, but I came to this book knowing nothing about it, only that it was supposed to be good and that it featured a non-European fantasy world, which, hurrah! And as I was reading, it occurs to me how much media I consume in which I sort of know what’s coming — you’ve read the book before you watch the movie, or it’s a remake or a mash-up or it’s based on a fairy tale, or you can see the plot coming a mile away. I didn’t have a clue what the book would be about for the first hundred or so (ebook) pages. It gets off to a very slow start with little indication of what the story will become.
The experience of reading the book gave me much more to chew on than the book itself. Let me try and break it down. I found myself dealing with three main threads:
- What’s the world look like?
- Is a haunting plot the same as a colonialism/globalization plot?
- Why do I keep reading books that, in the end, I cannot connect with?