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The City & the City by China Miéville

The City & the City (2009)

by China Miéville

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,3252221,636 (3.98)1 / 376
Recently added bypasswordisstilltaco, mark_wagner, private library, immerito, pfflyernc, Smigs, edgeworth
  1. 120
    The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (grizzly.anderson, kaipakartik)
    grizzly.anderson: Both are police procedural mysteries set in slightly alternate worlds.
    kaipakartik: Both are detective tales in alternate settings
  2. 101
    Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (snarkhunt)
    snarkhunt: Calvino's book is a travelogue of impossible societies while China's book is a sweet little noir stuck in the middle of one.
  3. 70
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (chmod007)
    chmod007: Both novels depict coexisting-but-dissociated societies — drastically foreign to the world we live in — but help us reflect on it.
  4. 71
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (ahstrick)
  5. 50
    Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Le Guin's Orsinia may have been an inspiration for Mieville's mythical Orciny in The City and the City.
  6. 40
    Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (ShelfMonkey)
  7. 40
    Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges (bertilak)
  8. 30
    Hav by Jan Morris (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Miéville's The City and the City acknowledges Jan Morris as an influence on his fractured cities novel, and Morris' travel book novel Hav (fictional trips to a fictional state) is the most likely reference.
  9. 30
    Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (heidialice)
    heidialice: May be an obvious recommendation, but these books cover a similar (very original) premise in very different ways. Un Lun Dun is for young teens, smaller in scope and message-heavy; The City & The City for adults, deals with complex themes and offers no easy answers. Both display Mieville's consummate skills and elegant humor.… (more)
  10. 20
    The Other City by Michal Ajvaz (bunnygirl)
    bunnygirl: Czech novel about an alternate Prague; not mentioned as one of the influences for this novel, but perhaps going on a bit of the same (disputed?) territory
  11. 31
    Wave without a shore by C. J. Cherryh (reading_fox)
    reading_fox: Covers the same ground regarding visualising concepts.
  12. 20
    A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Two tales of paranoia and murder set in very odd worlds that just get stranger....
  13. 20
    The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (Longshanks)
    Longshanks: Two books that expand the scope of detective fiction beyond the genre's traditional concerns and constraints, one existentially and one sociopolitically.
  14. 10
    Ways of Worldmaking by Nelson Goodman (sek_smith, sek_smith)
    sek_smith: Ways of World Making explains the cognitive processes that allow us to unsee and,thus, understand. The City & the City is a practical application of the concept, most rigorous and well weaved. Very entertaining fiction with plenty of meaning
    sek_smith: This is not a fiction book, but an essay on relativity applied to epistemology. For many interested in the psychological mechanisms at work in The city & the City, this is a good read.
  15. 10
    Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Jannes)
    Jannes: Two noir-ish thrillers with (vaguely) supernatural themes. Centered around sort-of-contemporary, yet fantastical urban landscapes. Both are very unique, and feels alike even if there's not many superficial similarities. More to the point, they're both damn good reading.… (more)
  16. 10
    Embassytown by China Miéville (Anonymous user)
  17. 10
    The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (ShelfMonkey)
  18. 00
    Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (julienne_preacher)
    julienne_preacher: Both books are about divided realities (and both books are awesome).
  19. 00
    Soft City by Jonathan Raban (sek_smith)
  20. 00
    The Kindly Ones by Melissa Scott (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Similar themes of parallel societies.

(see all 28 recommendations)


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English (214)  French (4)  Polish (1)  Spanish (1)  Romanian (1)  All languages (221)
Showing 1-5 of 214 (next | show all)
Beszel and Ul Qoma are twin cities. Beszel is a decaying former communist city similar to Sofia or Bucharest; Ul Qoma is a secular Islamic city similar to Istanbul, which has recently undergone an economic revival. The residents of the two cities have different cultures, languages, ethnic attributes and politics. They are not twin cities in the sense that they neighbour each other: they occupy the same physical space, with citizens learning from birth to “unsee” those buildings and citizens which are not a part of their world. The City and the City is a detective novel taking place within this strange world, in which a resident of Ul Qoma is found dead in Beszel, meaning that either she or her killer committed the gravest crime possible: that of “breach,” unauthorised passage between the two cities. The case develops further unsettling implications when the protagonist, investigating detective Inspector Borlu, receives a phone call with information from Ul Qoma – not an act of breach, because it’s properly routed through international lines, but problematic because the informant claims to have seen a poster of the murder victim that Borlu put up in Beszel.

Cities have always been at the heart of China Mieville’s work, but it’s safe to say that Beszel and Ul Qoma are his boldest and most creative fictional cities yet. The concept, which seems so implausible as to be unworkable even as a fantasy concept, is made real and convincing through Mieville’s details. Beszel and Ul Qoma exist in the modern day, in real Europe: Beszel has connecting flights to Athens and Budapest, the US government has a trade embargo on Ul Qoma, Chuck Palahniuk wrote a novel set in the cities, Inspector Borlu once attended a policing conference called “Policing Split Cities” which dealt with Berlin, Jerusalem, and Beszel and Ul Qoma. (“Totally missing the point,” he says.)

The concept of “unseeing” – of studiously avoiding looking at citizens of the other city, of pretending you do not see them – seems ridiculous, but it does not hold perfectly. “Breach” is the name of both the act of breaking this legal and moral code, and the name of the powerful (and possibly inhuman) agency which punishes such errors. Besz and Ul Qomans alike view Breach with fear and awe, and by the culmination of the novel, so does the reader – leading to a very neat police chase with Borlu in one city and his quarry in another, which ends in a shocking way.

I naturally expected this to be a political book – Mieville is a political writer, and the concept of two cities (and of “unseeing”) brings to mind a whole range of themes. Consider London, where I live now, which has billionaires living in penthouse suites and mansions in Chelsea, and immigrants living ten to a room in Tower Hamlets. Consider the various ethnic ghettoes, or the way we avoid eye contact with homeless people, or the way nobody speaks to or looks at each other on a crowded train. The concept of “unseeing” becomes much less silly when you consider that everyone in a big city does it every day – Mieville has simply taken it to its extreme.

The City and the City is the best of Mieville’s books I’ve yet read, not just for the originality and execution of its concept, but because – unlike the Bas-Lag trilogy – it’s tightly edited and far less flowery and rambling Mieville used to be. Perhaps this is because he was trying to emulate the Raymond Chandler detective novel style, but I hope it’s because he’s also developing as a writer. Even if you have been underwhelmed by Mieville in the past – as I was – I can strongly recommend The City and the City. ( )
  edgeworth | Jul 20, 2014 |
If I didn’t want to read the whole ‘Best 21st century Fantasy list’ I would have put this book down a third of the way through. I think so of it was the narrator of the audio book I listened to – I felt he had a bit of a monotone. And the author – sometimes you can just sit back and take in a story, other times you have to really concentrate to parse out what the author is saying. I felt this book was in between. And those two things together made this a hard read/listen. Also, as I have mentioned before, mystery and crime stories just don’t intrigue me as much as most other books, thus I wasn’t stuck looking forward to the story. This was more of a ‘let’s just finish this’ kind of book for me. Not my cup of tea unfortunately. However, the idea of two cities interlocked together where the populations are taught to unsee or unhear anything that’s in the other city even if it’s right in front of you is very interesting. And yet it was so confusing at first that I had to go online to really understand that setting. It’s definitely not a bad book and I bet there are a lot of people that would like it. Just not me. ( )
  Kassilem | Jul 2, 2014 |
A superb book. Weird in a good way. It has memorable characters and memorable setting/s. Once I started reading it I just can't stop reading. I would have loved to see it in the bug screen. It's hard to visualize the crosshatchings and how to be in neither city. I do hope they make it into a movie. ( )
  krizia_lazaro | Jul 1, 2014 |
The body of a woman is found in a seedy area of Beszel, and Tyador Borlu is the detective called to the scene. The murder appears fairly routine, until a scratchy phone call from Ul Qoma provides a tip. And so the starting point of many a mystery shifts... to crosshatching, total and alter, dissensi, grosstopical, topolganger... two cities in one geographic location, a taboo against breaching the (physical? psychological?) divide, obeyed by the practice of unseeing, enforced by the enigmatic Breach. Both cities can be entered from outside, but the only legal passageway between is the bureaucratic Copula Hall. The woman is identified as a PhD student who was associated with a pre-Cleavage archaeological site in Ul Qoma, obsessed by the legendary Orciny and a revelatory book since repudiated by its author, entangled with unificationists and nationalists. Uh oh. Getting a tad too fantastical and political for my taste? Actually, no.

So what held my interest? Well, there is the whodunnit aspect. Mostly though, it’s the restraint. The plot could have gone over-the-top bizarro, but it is tethered: the world is ordinary early 21st century with familiar cultural references, and the detectives are ordinary people. It proceeds forth with clues and interrogation and gradual resolution, except... breach, what does it mean and how does it work, a meta-mystery landscape, so the classic-mystery plot becomes a raised path for observation.
1 vote qebo | Jun 29, 2014 |
This noir fantasy has been described as a mixture of Raymond Chandler and Philip Dick with a little Franz Kafka. I’ve never read Kafka, but this work certainly has aspects that are reminiscent of Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere) and I can wholeheartedly endorse the allusion to Raymond Chandler, who the author cites as an inspiration.

The setting is a dirty, economically depressed Eastern European city (Beszel), near the present day. The twist is that the city possesses something of a doppelganger (Ul Qoma), that literally shares its physical footprint. The commonly occupied areas are referred to as cross-hatched and in them, inhabitants actually come into contact with each other. They are very careful not to interact and take great pains not to acknowledge or even look directly at each other. Any type of unauthorized interaction is strictly forbidden and referred to as “breaching”. Some type of supernatural force, Breach, enforces the segregation of the two cities. Controlled access between the two cities is allowed and enforced by a bilateral commission of sorts.

The story’s narrator is a police detective in the city of Beszel. His investigation of a murder leads him to a shadowy underworld of political dissidents, some ultranationalist and some working toward the ultimate unification of the two cities. The investigation requires him to “travel” to Ul Qoma in order to cooperate in the investigation with his contemporaries in that city.

This is a highly original story that requires thought by the reader as well as imagination to picture the intricacies involved in such a highly unusual situation. And just when you start to become comfortable with the landscape, the author actually throws a third contemporaneous city at you, Orcini.

It is a happy coincidence that immediately prior to reading this novel, I read Paul French’s North Korea: State of Paranoia. Certainly there are very strong commonalities in the relationship between the two cities in this work and the economic and political forces at play in both the Koreas and pre-unification Germany, as well as present day interaction between the Christian and Muslim worlds, though the author strongly denies any allegory.

This novel is certainly not for everyone, but it worked for me. ( )
  santhony | Jun 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 214 (next | show all)
Subtly, almost casually, Miéville constructs a metaphor for modern life in which our habits of "unseeing" allow us to ignore that which does not directly affect our familiar lives. Yet he doesn't encourage us to understand his novel as a parable, rather as a police mystery dealing with extraordinary circumstances. The book is a fine, page-turning murder investigation in the tradition of Philip K Dick, gradually opening up to become something bigger and more significant than we originally suspected.
added by andyl | editThe Guardian, Michael Moorcock (May 30, 2009)
Readers should shed their preconceptions and treat themselves to a highly original and gripping experience.The City & The City is still Urban Fantasy, yes, but don't look for elves on motorcycles or spell-casting cops. China Miéville has done something very different, new, and — oh yeah — weird.
added by PhoenixTerran | editio9, Chris Hsiang (May 28, 2009)
The novel works best when Miéville trusts his storytelling instincts. I was immediately entranced by the premise of doppel cities and didn't need it explained at every turn.

At times, I appreciated the intellectual brilliance of "The City" more than I lost myself in it. Borlú seemed an archetype more than a fleshed-out character. That's OK. The real protagonists here are the mirror cities themselves, and the strange inner workings that make them, and their residents, tick.
Miéville’s achievement is at once remarkable and subtle. His overlapping cities take in an aspect of our own world—social conventions—wholesale. But by describing those conventions using conceptual tools borrowed from traditional “worldbuilding” fantasy, he heightens awareness of the unnoticed in our own lives. He doesn’t give us symbols. He gives us real life rendered with all the more clarity for its apparent weirdness.

» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, Chinaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mäkelä, J. PekkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nati, MaurizioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Deep inside the town there open up, so to speak, double streets, doppelganger streets, mendacious and delusive streets."
   -- Bruno Schulz, The Cinnamon Shops and Other Stories
In loving memory of my mother,
Claudia Lightfoot
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I could not see the street or much of the estate.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
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Book description
Haiku summary
Can cities really
co-exist in the same place?
Beware the frontier!

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345497511, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don't, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville's The City & The City. Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he's tried on different genres, and here he's fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective's voice that's wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu's own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don't end with the solution of a murder. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:53 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Inspector Tyador Borlu must travel to Ul Qoma to search for answers in the murder of a woman found in the city of Beszel.

» see all 8 descriptions

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