Far North, Marcel Theroux, 2009
The novelist is the oldest son of writer Paul Theroux who featured in the authorized biography of V.S. Naipaul. This end-of-civilization genre novel is actually quite entertaining. Civilization and human industrial life is slowly coming to an end and one of last places where humans are struggling to survive is in northern Siberia.
The main character, Makepeace, is writing an account of this life, for whom we don’t know. Makepeace is born in Siberia of American parents from Chicago who become Quakers and move to Siberia in a small group to buy land from the Russians and start a new life. The father speaks six languages but is ill suited to the harsh pioneering life of the far north. Makepeace is a survivor, a skilled gardener and hunter and a constable dedicated to keeping the peace. Makepeace’s face is badly mutilated from a lye attack, a part of a feud between the father’s group and a rival family that has moved to town.
After a few chapters, everyone in town has died or left and Makepeace is alone. Makepeace scavenges the abandoned town for books and garden seeds. Makepeace forges bullets for the many guns used. The books are locked in the armory for safe keeping. One day Makepeace spots a Chinese throwing books out a window. When the Chinese goes to draw, what Makepeace assumes is a gun, the Chinese is shot and wounded and Makepeace discovers the Chinese is a young pregnant woman. We finally discover that Makepeace is a woman who has a wiry build, a deep voice, cuts her hair short, and wears men’s clothes to make encounters with strangers less risky. The Chinese girl, Ping, practice tai chi and acupuncture. Ping dies in childbirth along with the baby.
Siberia From Air
A depressed and lonely Makepeace sees a plane fly overhead and crash near the town killing all onboard. She decides to travel East to try to find where the plane came from hoping to find a still functioning industrial society capable of the miracle of flight. Instead she encounters a village presided over by a mad preacher who trades her to a slave caravan. The slave caravan heads southwest and stops in a fertile region at an old military base where several hundred slaves farm, garden, and generally keep the place running. Everyone eats well and Makepeace stays for several years.
Occasionally a few slaves are selected for work in the Zone which is reputed to be a manufacturing center. It is considered a great honor to be selected. Makepeace is selected as guard on a trip to deliver workers to the Zone which turns out to be due north of the base in the old town of Polyn on the 66th Parallel. The Russian had built a modern center for secret scientific research in Polyn and when they abandoned the city they left behind a permanent anthrax contaminant so the city cannot be reoccupied or scavenged. The slave workers are instructed to scavenge in the city for 24 hours and bring back scientific discoveries like fuels, seeds, and other items. The workers are then shot (they will die soon anyway) and the things scavenged will be decontaminated and returned.
Makepeace has seen enough, she steals the head guard’s horse and escapes into the city knowing the guards won’t follow her. She encounters the last slave who has found a glowing blue jar. They wait for the guards to leave then leave the city themselves. The slave and horse soon sicken and die but Makepeace, though sick, survives. Later it is rumored that the anthrax has been targeted at males only so that women can survive to breed a new generation.
Air Base Siberia
Makepeace heads for home but spots another plane heading for the base. She can’t resist, returns to the base where her old family nemesis, now living in Alaska, is brewing ethanol to refuel his plane for a trip to Polyn followed by a flight back to Alaska. He wants Makepeace to find more of the glowing jars and takes her will him. After retrieving the jars, they assume Makepeace will die anyway so they leave for Alaska. Makepeace returns home and magically has a child for whom the journal is perhaps intended.