In the not too distant future, two girls flee their homes, both bitten by a snake. Meena must leave Mumbai, and after a chance encounter in a bar, she decides to walk the Trans Arabian Linear Generator; a dangerous and illegal act which will lead her to the shores of Ethiopia. In another time young Mariama, clearly traumatised, embarks on her own journey, across Saharan Africa.
There are no emergencies. I’m bored. This is the lived reality of adventure.
I loved Meena’s journey along the Trail, the wave and solar energy generator that links India and Ethiopia. This aspect reminded me a little of Wild; she is prepared equipment-wise but not physically and has a hard time just walking on it to start with. Her goal seems futile, walking across an ocean on an ever moving snake. All the time she muses on her past mistakes and thinks quite a lot about sex.
I really wanted to love The Girl in the Road but I wonder if it suffers from too many ideas. It’s refreshing to read about a future in a non-white-Western culture and there’s an exploration of sexuality and gender in a supposedly forward-thinking India. Yet for much of it I was left a little confused, and every time I started to get into it, I was torn away to another element or moment in time.
It had to be something. If not caste, if not class, then gender. Children must un-train their elders over and over again.
I got the feeling from early on that the snake bites, and the snakes themselves, were symbolic. Both girls bitten in the solar plexus which is the manipura chakra, associated with the power of transformation. In Ayurvedic medicine, deficiency in this chakra is related to mental health issues. Early on in the story, Meena attempts suicide and is clearly running away from something. She says Semena Werk were trying to kill her, but there is no evidence of this. She is constantly picking at the scab on her chest, preventing it from healing properly, preventing herself from facing facts and healing mentally.
The ones who saw something unbearable and continued living anyway. I’m one of those even though I don’t have a conscious memory of it. As a baby I felt my mother die around me. And after a thing like that, why live?
As the story progresses, we learn about the golden meaning, the true meaning behind the things we say or do. There’s a lot about suppressed memories and truths, both girls motherless and fleeing their pasts.
Mariama’s narrative is more child-like and I found it very hard to connect with her as a character. She runs away from home and stows away on a truck carrying goods to Ethiopia. As she travels across Africa she meets Yemaya, who she looks up to as both a mother figure and a goddess. Yemaya is the name of an African spirit, the spirit of mothers and the ocean, linking together both stories.
Meena’s sexuality is fluid; she addresses her narration to a previous partner, a transgender woman called Mohini. We learn a little about Mohini through flashbacks and it would seem at first that India has become quite accepting of differences gender identity and sexuality. However the world is still full of violence against women. There’s some uncomfortable scenes, one of which has drawn controversy to the book, and it doesn’t sit right with the idea of a society moving on. Why is this something women can’t escape?
The Girl in the Road, winner of the 2014 Tiptree Award, is published by Blackfriars, an imprint of Little Brown, and is currently available in paperback and ebook editions with a new paperback due on 3rd September 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.