The City & the City, by China Miéville

I loved this book.

I mean, I really loved it. Like, sometimes a strong ending can raise my impression of an otherwise lackluster book. But a little way in, I told a bookworm coworker, “I think I really am going to like this book.”

A while later, I told a bookworm friend, “This is turning out to be really good. You should check it out.”

Then, when the plot thickened, I told my coworker again, “Yes. This is great.”

And once I finished it, I told someone, “It’s a pity you aren’t a reader; you’re really missing out.”

So I think it’s safe to say that it was great all the way through.

It’s going to be a challenge to give a summary without spoiling too much, so maybe I’ll just talk about what I expected versus what we got?

Actually, first I’ll talk about the inspiration. Miéville’s mother was terminally ill, so she asked him to write a book for her. Most of his books are “speculative fiction,” an umbrella term that covers fantasy, science fiction, and some horror. This was not his mother’s interest, though. She preferred mystery and police procedurals.

And so, The City & The City (Germane Amazon Link!) was born. It is a tale about two cities occupying the same place geographically. I was expecting some kind of interdimensional shenanigans, but instead, they literally are geographically in the same place.

In our world, we have two towns, Baarle-Hertog, Belgium; and Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands*. These two towns are intertwined with one another in such a way that there’s a story (which I have yet to verify) that when they resurveyed the town, they discovered that the front door of a house, and thus the whole house, was in the wrong country. It would have been a bureaucratic mess to redo everything (I know the house would need a whole new address, because the street it was on has different names in each country, and I believe that the residents would even need to have changed their nationalities), so they just moved the front door to a different part of the house, where it would stay in the same country.

So. Think that, but larger. Much larger. Then to make things even weirder, the residents of and visitors to the two cities are not allowed to interact with the other city. They have to “unsee” the other city entirely. The only way to interact with the other city involves crossing the official border, at which point they can only interact with the city that they’re in after the crossing.

In the city of Besźel, Inspector Tyador Borlú is called to the location of a dead body. It turns out that the body was Mehalia Geary, a Ph.D student in the other city, Ul Qoma. Borlú has to investigate this murder without ever acknowledging the presence of the other city. He eventually has to go to Ul Qoma to assist in their investigation of the murder and that’s where an interesting book becomes really fascinating.

:chef’s kiss:

*Back in the days when I thought that Alex and I were going to be able to fly into Amsterdam, travel Germany in a big circle, then go back in through Belgium and back to Amsterdam, the Baarles (?) were on my list of things to visit. And maybe I will be able to do it someday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.