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The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere) by…
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The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere)

by Meg Elison

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I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

After reading The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, I was very excited to read the sequel. My experience with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife was amazing; I loved how gritty and harsh the story was, and how it really didn't mince words. I liked the main character and the way the author portrayed every aspect of every situation, avoiding all bias or favoritism. In the end, it was a spellbinding book that is still at the top of my list in terms of dystopian novels. You can see why I was so excited to read this sequel, and read about how the author imagined the future of her dystopian society.

Etta comes from Nowhere, a village full of survivors of the plague that wiped away the old world. In Nowhere, mothers and midwives are considered sacred, and everyone reveres the teachings of the Unnamed Midwife. Etta, however, doesn't feel the same way about the role of a midwife or a mother. She would much rather be a scavenger, who roams the territories surrounding Nowhere, salvaging useful relics and saving women and girls being sold by slave traders. When slavers capture those she loves, Etta vows to avenge them. As her mission leads her to the stronghold of the Lion, a tyrant who claims currency through a bounty of weapons and women, Etta will have to risk her body and spirit to not only save lives but also to discover her own destiny.

Let me begin by saying that it is imperative that you read the first book in this trilogy or else the concepts and impact of this story really won't make sense. That being said, this novel takes on the issue of gender in a completely different way than The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. While in the first book the focus was on struggling to be a woman, this novel is all about gender fluidity. As usual, the author conveys her story in that gritty, no-holds-bar style that I love and she really doesn't shy away from disturbing content. There are graphic depictions of rape and abuse, so consider this a warning for those wary of this kind of content. Unlike the first story which centered on the survival of a whole gender, this novel is much more of an identity quest where Etta/Eddy discovers who he/she really is amidst a society that doesn't really support lesbian/gay relations or even the concept of being transgendered. This novel pulled me in but I found myself more drawn to the internal struggles rather than the actual action parts of the story. While it felt like this novel moved slower than its predecessor, I didn't mind because it gave me the time to really think deeply on the ideas that the author is presenting. I still think the first book in this series was the better of the two, but this novel is by no means bad. Overall, another gripping story that tackles difficult issues in a dystopian setting. I can't wait to see what the author will publish next in this fascinating series! ( )
  veeshee | Jan 29, 2018 |
I found this another interesting read but less so than the first book. Mainly because it is so bleak and wearing its agenda too obviously on its sleeve. The first book was bleak but at least ended on a hopeful note. This started out hopeful and then got bleaker with an open ending. Will there be a 3rd book? ( )
  infjsarah | Nov 21, 2017 |
I didn't think The Book of the Unnamed Midwife needed a sequel, but I'd argue this isn't one: set 100 years later, it explores a world still failing to find equilibrium in the wake of a pandemic that has all but wiped out womankind. Mankind, sadly, has responded in the worst possible ways.

Isolated communities have adopted different social models for survival; Etta is from matriarchal Nowhere, but rejects the traditional roles of Mother or Midwife to journey beyond its walls as trader and scavenger. Etta comes face to face with brutality and must confront both gender and sexual identity as it becomes clear that Nowhere's fragile peace is under threat from an empire-building tyrant.

Expect introspection and commentary on reproductive rights, identity and intersectional feminism - packaged up in a taut, nail-biting narrative.

Full review

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review ( )
  imyril | Apr 15, 2017 |
The Book of Etta by Meg Elison is the second book in the post-apocalyptic series that started with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. You have to read the first book in the series before The Book of Etta. About a hundred years have passed since the time of the unnamed midwife when a plague wiped out nearly everyone, but especially women and children. Childbirth is still dangerous.

Etta/Eddy comes from Nowhere, the village of survivors (located in the present day Ozarks/Odarks) that reveres the unnamed midwife. Etta wants to be a scavenger, not a midwife or a mother, the only two recognized positions for women in her village. She goes out on forays disguised as Eddy where she looks for useful items and rescues any women/girls being sold by slavers she might meet on the road. After one foray into Estiel (St. Louis) where the powerful leader called the Lion is located, she now tries to avoid the city. His followers raid nearby communities, demand tributes, loyalty and especially women and girls to all be taken for the Lion.

There are small communities that are becoming established now and each of them deal with the gender inequality differently. Women in Nowhere have hives, where one woman has a group of men. The Lion keeps a harem of women and rules by fear and power, but there are also catamites (castrated boys) for his men's use. (Girls are being cut too, so genital mutilation is an occurrence now.) There are several other settlements introduced here that have their societies set up differently.

The big, overriding theme in The Book of Etta is the question/complication of gender identity, inequality, and the firm roles in place for various communities. Etta identifies as Eddy and is transgender but is not allowed to be Eddy in Nowhere, where women are either midwives or mothers with a hive, while other communities have different rules in place for their men and women. Each different community Eddy visits is like a different, weird societal cult where there are specific roles assigned based on gender. Eddy doesn't have a place.

I was eager and excited to read the second book in the planned trilogy because I loved The Book of the Unnamed Midwife so much. The writing is still very good. I wasn't as captivated by this second installment, however. It could be the second-book-in-a-series syndrome since it is obviously a bridge to the final installment. Although it is still brutal and gritty, the focus and anxiety over gender questions among several characters is almost overwrought, taking up more pages of anxiety than would seem necessary in this changed world. It will be interesting to see where Elison is taking this series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of 47North.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1917554615
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2017/02/the-book-of-etta.html ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Feb 18, 2017 |
In this sequel to the wonderful "Book of the Unnamed Midwife", a century has passed since a virus killed most women. Those who survived and later got pregnant usually died. The Unnamed Midwife did what she could to spread birth control, disguising herself as a man most of the time to avoid captivity and rape, the typical fate of unprotected women. In Nowhere, a fort in the Midwest where the Midwife finally settled, women are now divided into Mothers and Midwives. Those who choose and survive pregnancy are revered, but all women are highly valued. Most residents of Nowhere live in hives: collections of men who form a family with one woman. Women and men all take part in decision-making and work, and the town council always has a majority of women.

Etta, the "living daughter" of one of the elder women, has chosen to be a raider, someone who travels from the town in search for old-world items which can be used for trade. Etta also has a secondary goal: the rescue of abused girls and women and the death of their captors. Etta seems to be in her early 20s. On the road she disguises herself Eddy, having shaved her head and learned male body-language. But it's obvious Etta has experienced a profound trauma in her raiding, and it's not too hard to figure out what that entailed. Her Eddy identity is slowly edging out Etta's, and her fury over what's happened to her alienates her from her mother and the other women with whom she's close. Eventually she determines to leave Nowhere and try to find San Francisco, the Midwife's original hometown. Her journey brings her into contact with a variety of towns which have solved the woman shortage in quite diverse ways, some reverential, some cruel and hopeless.

Etta is a complex and difficult character. She's not particularly likable, but it's a very difficult world in which she works. It's hard to tell if she's truly having a sexual identity crisis or is so damaged by what's happened to her that she's almost a split personality. Either way, the author's portrait of the future continues in this entry to be profound, sometimes appalling, and always surprising. I sincerely hope there will be another sequel. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Jan 25, 2017 |
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Etta comes from Nowhere, a village of survivors of the great plague that wiped away the world that was. In the world that is, women are scarce and childbearing is dangerousyet desperately necessary for humankinds future. Mothers and midwives are sacred, but Etta has a different calling. As a scavenger. Loyal to the village but living on her own terms, Etta roams the desolate territory beyond: salvaging useful relics of the ruined past and braving the threat of brutal slave traders, who are seeking women and girls to sell and subjugate.… (more)

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