Thousands of years in the future, all the northern hemisphere is buried under the ice and snow of a new Ice Age. At the southern end of a large landmass called Ifrik, two children of the Mahondi people, seven-year old Mara and her younger brother, Dann, are abducted from their home in the middle of the night. Raised as outsiders in a poor rural village, Mara and Dann learn to survive the hardships and dangers of a life threatened as much by an unforgiving climate and menacing animals as by a hostile community of Rock People. Eventually they join the great human migration North, away from the drought that is turning the southern land to dust, and in search of a place with enough water and food to support human life. Traveling across the continent, the siblings enter cities rife with crime, power struggles, and corruption, learning as much about human nature as about how societies function. With a clear-eyed vision of the human condition, Mara and Dann is imaginative fiction at its best.
Tenderly perceptive, Lessing's first far-future novel since her celebrated Canopus in Argos: Archives series of the late 1970s-mid '80s features two appealing orphans precariously reaching adulthood on Earth thousands of years from now. The Ice Age brought on by the ecological rapaciousness of today's society is receding, bringing lethal drought to the Southern land of "Ifric," where a power struggle in her family has stranded seven-year-old Mara, who is fiercely caring for her even younger brother, Dann, in a remote village of neo-Neanderthals. Even under desperate conditions, Mara's thirst for knowledge outpaces the thirst for water that, over the years, drives her?sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by Dann, who as he grows up insists on following his own dreams?toward the icy North, where remnants of Earth's old technological glories await. She and Dann endure numerous hardships and adventures along the way: Dann becomes addicted to "the poppy" and gambles Mara away on a roll of the dice; Mara works as a spy and is kidnapped to be a "breeder." Lessing spins a glowing hymn to human endurance around the sweet, shrewd, indefatigable Mara, one of her most engaging heroines. Though Lessing sanitizes Voltaire's savage satire of Western civilization here, her innocent-but-canny Mara proves as effective as Candide at surviving the worst and celebrating the best that human beings can do to one another. This novel is a resounding affirmation of humanity and what it holds dearest, from one of our most gifted storytellers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 21, 1999
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