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Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Amatka (2012)

by Karin Tidbeck

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Amatka by Karin Tidbeck is a highly recommended science fiction novel that explores the power of language; it is translated from the original Swedish.

Vanja lives in a world that has four surviving colonies from the original five. She is an information assistant living in the colony of Essre when she is sent by her company to Amatka. Once there she is supposed to survey the residents on their use of hygiene products and their need for new products and willingness to try new brands. Vanja is assigned to stay in a local house with only three other residents, Nina, Ivar, and Ulla.

Everything in this world is made of some kind of mushroom/fungus. All citizens in this weird world are required to mark and name all of their things or they will risk having the objects lose their shape and turn into a kind of sludge that must be cleaned up by a special crew. It seems that in Amatka, the citizens need to do this much more often than they do in Essre.

Amatka is also much colder than she expected and the residents seem to be monitored much more intently for any subversive activity. Vanja is only expecting to be in Amatka for a short time before she returns to Essre, so she concentrates on doing her job. While doing so she notices that something seems a bit strange with the residents, and the truth about some mysterious events are not discussed.

This is a rather odd novel that immediately brought to mind Jeff VanderMeer's fungus-laden Ambergris novels (City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, and Finch), as mushrooms seem to play an important role in Amatka too. With a translated version it's difficult to know if some of the oddness is from the translation or the writing. Certainly Tidbeck does not explain everything that is happening and some of what you will come away with is supposition based on what you think you know.

Dystopian, sure, but much more science fiction as it is set in a different world that has been colonized. The colonies seem to be based on a Soviet-style system, but other than that little is explained about how these people arrived in this world. The naming of things or writing down their names could lead to all sorts of questions about controlling our environment and the meaning behind language. This is an interesting novel, but not likely for a wide audience.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2047583484 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Jul 2, 2017 |
Language. It shapes our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and even our brain development. Amakta is a part-fantasy, part-science fiction, allegory of the impact of language on society. I can't be much more specific than that without giving too much away. In a nutshell, Amatka is a colony in an unknown land. Objects must be continuously "marked" or they lose their shape. I know, sounds a bit far-fetched, and aspects of this novel are exactly that, but the allegorical aspects are spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book and devoured it over the course of two days. It's quick, intriguing, insightful, and suspenseful. All that being said, the "over-the-top" aspects almost did the whole thing in for me. The ending left me thinking, "huh. huh? huh." Perhaps I lost something in the translation? Or perhaps I just don't have the brain power at this juncture to fully grasp it. I'm anxious to see more reviews and commentaries from others, so if you are reading this and have finished the book, message me and tell me what I missed!

*Warning: potential spoiler ahead*

I do want to quickly bring up one passage that gave me chills considering current events. "Still, she had found the way that seemed to work best: to use speech, writing, and thought to describe in detail something that didn't exist, to make it come into existence." Alternative facts, anyone?

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  joyhclark | Mar 20, 2017 |
Any lover of dystopias will be more than familiar with the basic setup in Karin Tidbeck’s debut. A society where there’s a shortage of almost anything, where censorship, propaganda and informing on your neighbor run the everyday lives of the citizens – who get their jobs chosen for them by the Board and give up their kids to be raised by the community at age seven. A limited free enterprise between the four colonies has just been enforced, and as a result Vanja is sent to the northern colony Amatka to do a census about hygiene articles, to possibly pave the way for export. Where she meets a librarian, who lets her in on a dangerous secret: there used to be another way of living… Yeah, I know. The beginning is well done and full of ambience, but there’s a hefty load of tropes going on.

But not only. Because there’s right from the start also another thing, much more original and sinister: this is a world where matter itself is constantly on the verge of collapsing. Only meticulous watching, branding and naming, on a daily basis, is what keeps a bed a bed and not just a puddle of white slime. And pretty soon Tidbeck is taking us into much more original landscapes, eerie and dreamlike, right up until the wide open, utterly strange end.

I really enjoyed reading this slender debut novel. It’s not perfect, but it packs a punch, and Tidbeck really knows how to create an ambience. I wouldn’t hesitate to file it under “New weird” (first Swedish example of it?), and am very pleased to learn the Jeff VanderMeer will publish Tidbeck’s work in English. It’s almost shameful it took a brit (thank you Claire!) to point her out to me. I’m fairly sure I’ll read everything she writes from here on. ( )
4 vote GingerbreadMan | Oct 26, 2012 |
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Brilars Vanja Esse Två, informationsassistent för Hygienspecialisterna i Essre, steg ensam på autotåget till Amatka.
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