Tropic of Kansas
According to a friend of mine old enough to be my mother, every generation has felt itself on the brink of the end of the world. For her (and my mother), it was the late Cold War. For their mothers, it was the early Cold War, albeit one with a fresher memory of what nuclear weapons could achieve. For their mothers, it was World War II, and for their mothers, it was World War I. It’s possible every generation has its own terror of humanity’s impending end, but at the risk of sounding biased, I think mine has a few more than usual. There’s climate change, tensions with North Korea, and the current administration (or the previous, depending on your politics), just to name a few. It’s a sign of the times that dystopian literature is going through a boom, from the YA novels that started getting popular when I was still a teen to the resurgence in popularity of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.
There have been new dystopias as well, and it’s possible that Tropic of Kansas will be just another of many published this year and in the years to come. It shouldn’t be. This book is a powerful vision of an America that might be, an America that some nights seems as though it is all too likely to be, filled with powerful characters and a chilling presentiment of how far our country could fall.
America as we know it is gone. Fugitives flee to Canada in order to escape from an authoritarian who is president in name only and whose own vice president tried unsuccessfully to remove him from office. The title of the book comes from the fact that the Midwest is now more wasteland than heartland. Through this terrifying new world we follow Sig and Tania, two young people who know one another from a brief encounter in their past and yet couldn’t be more different. Sig, when we first meet him, is using his wits and determination to escape from a prison. His mother was a resistance fighter, and he is ready to follow in her footsteps. Tania, on the other hand, works for the government and is assigned to track down Sig and discover who he’s working with. As she is drawn closer to him, however, she finds herself also drawn more and more into his fight, gradually turning against the very government she works for.
I can’t say whether this book presents a truly possible future for the United States. I’m no prophet, and I much prefer to imagine more optimistic scenarios. I can, however, say that it’s a novel well worth reading, and that the parallels to today’s world are genuinely chilling.
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