Drought has become a way of life. Wars are fought over water. The skirmishes occur in faraway deserts where communities divert the water that has been stolen from them to supply the cities. The government has outsourced water security to the Company. So they can turn a blind eye? The Company soldiers are ruthless in their mission to protect water. They abuse their power and barter water for young girls.
The young female protagonist, who is nameless throughout, hears a story of a grandmother, deep in the desert, who tells of children raped and killed for water. There are rumours of rain having fallen. The grandmother’s words contain ‘a flare of wisdom, which for those of us who lived a life of privilege and safety in the cities, had been lost under the layers of what we owned and what we were convinced we had to protect”. These insights into the way this world operates simultaneously captures the spirit of the times and indict it. As it indicts our world. She senses a story and journeys to the area without knowing how she would get there. It is inaccessible and tacitly forbidden.
The novel is atmospheric with a mystical quality underpinned with a sense of impending doom. The writer feels connected to the story of the missing children; she feels compelled to discover the truth. She has a quiet determination and will not be diverted from her task. In her attempt to find this isolated place, she is at the mercy of Company men. She brushes this aside but it comes back to haunt her later.
The observations of her surroundings as she journeys into the valley are detailed but never tedious. Dropped at a junction in the desert with little to guide her, she tries to find the town, trying to keep the newly flowing river in sight.
“It was like a great hand had swept through and stolen all normal measures of direction and growth and time from that valley”.
She walks the whole day until she stumbles upon the town. I am often bored by descriptive passages of landscape but this writing held me captivated; I was with her all the way; feeling the heat, smelling the vegetation.
In the settlement, she finds the company Doctor is trying to sedate the grandmother and believes her ramblings are those of a mind enfeebled by hardship and dehydration. The protagonist finds ways of hearing her story; told in a mixture of parable and fact. She believes it. The grandmother tells her of a cave in the mountains where Eve and Noni were assaulted by the Company soldiers. Noni is dead but Eve is missing. Before the grandmother is taken away, she exhorts the writer to find Eve.
The writer meets a man at the town, only named the journalist. He helps her to secretly record the grandmother’s story. They are drawn to each other and meet back in the city. They tentatively grope towards intimacy but her preoccupation with the girls and her previous experience make this difficult. She discovers that the journalist had been privy to a secret hearing. The guard who had raped the girls is found and everything is covered up. She is obsessed with the quest to find Eve which leads her into many dangerous situations as well as situations where she is at a loss. She continues anyway.
This is a wonderful novel; it draws the reader into its world with beautiful evocative writing, insights into the human condition and the nature of power. It explores this world through a meld of the spiritual and the practical. The descriptions of this ravaged, drought-stricken place are wonderful. The novel has a mystical quality that is enhanced by the fear that underpins the protagonist’s actions. Her namelessness throughout adds to the dream-like atmosphere. At the same time, it speaks to the nature of power and has some prescience. One of my favourite books read in 2015.