Tag Archives: The City and the City

Book Club Reflection: The City and the City by China Mieville

27 Jun

I’m really getting bad about these Book Club Discussions and getting them up on time. To the lovely people in my group, I apologize. There are just not enough days in the week now that I’ve stopped blogging on Fridays. Well, kind of stopped (as you can see).

We met on June 9th to discuss The City and the City by China Mieville. You can read my review of the book here. This meeting was delayed a month so this will be a shorter discussion as many of us forgot the details. We focused instead on overall themes and characters (which is my favorite, anyway!).

Many of us were not fans of the book. We thought it was hard to get into and some people didn’t understand the concept of the cities at the beginning. I overheard a librarian describing the book to someone before I started it so I went into the book with an advantage not everyone had. We were very curious why the cities had split. Had they started very close to each other and fought for space? (Side note, this reminds me of games such as ‘Slay’ and ‘Civilizations.’) Or were they once one city that divided due to some political issue? We wished there had been a bit more information on this. To a reader, the cultural divide seemed arbitrary and reminded some of us of the divide in Rwanda. There’s a scene in the movie Hotel Rwanda where it is illustrated how little an outsider can see the difference in their cultural groups, even though it seems obvious from the inside. We felt like the Ul Qoma and Beszel divide was similar.

Many of us liked (or at least noticed) that the people in this book had to develop some words that existed only to them because of their living situation. ‘Toppleganger’ was a favorite. This made me think about how every group creates their own words based on need. We all know the example that Eskimos have fifteen words for snow based on the size of the flakes and intensity of the storm; I see this as being along the same line.

The cities themselves play such a large part in the story that they’re characters themselves. Some members of our group argued that they’re bigger characters than the people because the people were a bit under developed much of the time. They dictated the actions Borlu and his counterparts took more than another single character.

One of our discussion questions was about the choice of Borlu as a narrator. Our answer depended on what we thought the novel was about. Some of us thought of it as a mystery novel (myself included) and in that case, yes, Borlu is a good narrator. But some of the group thought the book was a social commentary and in that case, the archeologist, David Bowden, might have been a better choice because he was more attune to the social issues between the two cities. I think it’s safe to say that there was social commentary wrapped into this crime novel and I think Borlu was a logical choice for a narrator because Mieville explored the crime aspect more than the social commentary.

There was a part in the book where Borlu talks about a conference he went to for divided areas and he felt it was an insult for someone to compare the Ul Qoma and Beszel situation with Israel and Palestine. However, it made all of us think of the Israel/Palestine problem! The biggest difference was that Ul Qoma/Beszel was much less violent. The two groups existed besides each other and didn’t seem to be fighting for space like in other situations. We felt that Breach was the main reason the two groups were at peace with each other. It was hard for them to go to war or even be angered by someone in the other city with Breach being so vigilant and watching the people all the time.

China Mieville is an active member of the Socialist party and we wondered if that influenced this work. I’ve seen in my Google searches that some of his other books lend themselves to socialism, but I didn’t see a lot of socialist themes in this book. The economies of the cities were not a focus of the novel, but I don’t remember either of them striking me as socialist. It’s an interesting thing to note, but I don’t see it as influential on this work.

One of our members pointed out the prejudice in the book. I had noticed Borlu’s comparisons of the two cities and that he seemed biased toward his own city, but I didn’t find that unusual. I think people tend to think their cities are better than others. However, once I started thinking about it, it seemed more like a rivalry between two schools than city pride. Borlu thought his city was working harder, had a better future, etc. We wondered how they could form an opinion of Ul Qoma if they didn’t see it. Wasn’t having this opinion an admission of breach? It seemed like it was unusual for people to cross the border the way Borlu did. How would they have formed these opinions? It seemed that they couldn’t completely unsee everything from the way Borlu described life in the city. Maybe having to unsee something makes you think that you’re better than it.

We took unseeing the other city as a metaphor for how we look past things we see in our own cities. For example, when I worked in Washington DC, I’d walk past homeless people like I didn’t see them. Of course I did see them, but I chose not to recognize them. If you’ve never lived in or traveled to a big city before, maybe you think I’m a jerk for saying this, but when I go into Detroit or on my recent trip to Chicago, it was hard to avoid and too numerous to help everyone. It helped me understand that we all unsee one thing or another.

We talked about other things we unsee in our lives. In our own homes, we look past something that’s dirty that we don’t have time to clean, or a chore we’ve been putting off. Outside, we’ll look past litter and maybe ignore abandoned buildings with busted windows. We can try to look past our neighbor’s dead grass or terrible choice of landscaping. At work, we can pretend we don’t see what Sally May has a new skirt that is too short or that Billy Joe has on tennis shoes instead of dress shoes. It’s not our place. Personally, I try to unhear my neighbor’s children throwing a ball against the wall or playing in the foyer until 10 PM. There’s something we all unsee.

This was a great group despite many of us having forgotten a lot of the book. We’ll meet again in August to discuss A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers which I’ve started and so far absolutely love.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 7-May-2014

14 May

As anticipated, my carpool has slowed down my audio book consumption. It’s still at an okay pace, but nothing like it was before. I’m sad to say that my edition of MizB’s WWW will, for the first time, report little progress!www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m trucking through The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker. I should be able to finish this before next week! It’s a bit slow right now. A little too much memory and not enough action. The flashbacks are long and seem disjointed. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s still a slow drive, but I’ve been reading in very small pieces. I’m on m second part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. My first Read-Along post will be up tomorrow so check back to read that. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’re just starting chapters 10-19 and will be done with them by 26-May. On audiobook I’m working on I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s nice that this audiobook is on my phone because I can listen to it while I do house chores.

Recently finished: Nothing new to report! I posted a review of The City & The City by China Mieville, but I finished it a few weeks ago. Hopefully there’s more progress next week.

Reading Next:  Still planning on reading my NaNo. I’ll get a new book club selection on Monday but I hope that doesn’t slow me down! There’s a Poets & Writers on my nightstand I need to read, too!

Expect slower progress from me in the future, unfortunately. I’m trying to figure out a way to balance this carpool and my book obsession. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The City and The City by China Mieville (3/5). Once you figure out the setting, your head will stop spinning.

9 May

I never would have picked this book up if it weren’t for my book club. I don’t know how much I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but I didn’t hate it. It was different, maybe too different for my tastes. But still ‘good.’ Read on!

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The City and The City by China Mieville

Inspector Borlu is investigating the murder of Mahalia, a student in neighboring Ul Qoma. The country’s border isn’t as far away as you’d think, maybe only a few feet. That’s because Ul Qoma and Borlu’s city, Beszel, share the same geographic space. Are you confused yet? The two cities belong to different countries, but occupy the same space. Citizens have to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ things happening in the other country. Locals know the boarders and are careful never to breach the border. Borlu suspects that whoever killed Mahalia did so in Ul Qoma and dumped her body in Beszel. An international investigation begins and delves into Mahalia’s research. She’s been investigation Orciny, a suspected third city that exists in all the disputed territory of the other cities. If it’s really there, what is it controlling?

[Spoilers Summary]
Borlu finds out that the murder crossed legally between the two countries and he’s unable to invoke Breach: the inter-city policing force that makes sure citizens stay within their own country. Why? She was legally transported between the two cities, crossing the border that exists beneath the joint city hall. Borlu goes to Ul Qoma to work with Officer Dhatt of their police force. Together they find out that Orciny is involved and must figure out how far. Mahalia’s best friend has gone missing, too, and she fears Orciny is after her life.

I overheard one of the librarians telling a member of our group that the two cities had the same physical space. When I started reading, I thought it might be that they were on different planes of existence that could almost see each other without being able to clearly see but the more I got into it, the more I understood. I liked that the setting was meant to be a place in the known world. There were references to Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and other countries that appear on the map in your third grade classroom but Ul Qoma and Beszel are completely fictional.

It’s hard to say if the characters were well-written. They live in a world so different from my own that I can’t relate to them on any sort of cultural level. On a human level (I assume they are humanoid), I liked Mieville’s characters. They experienced fear and anger in much the same way I do. I think that’s important in Science Fiction because with such a disconnected setting, we need to be able to appeal to the human emotion of the characters.

China Mieville (Image from The Guardian)

Borlu was an awesome character. I loved his small acts of rebellion against the Breach and how he would sometimes ‘see’ what he should have been ‘unseeing.’ I liked that he questioned what he saw in a world where I felt no one else was. They seemed to think the situation was normal despite living in a world where it was anything but.

It was hard to understand how the characters thought. They had been so brainwashed by their government that they could no longer see for themselves. it was hard for me to understand this for a long time and even once I did, I was still lost. I think Mahalia’s parents are the one ones I could relate to because they seemed as lost in these strange countries as I felt.

I was on the edge of my seat when Borlu committed Breach. I’d been waiting for it the entire book and almost jumped off the couch when it happened. I was so glad that he saw the idiocy of what was happening and took action when those around him were unwilling to react. The idea of Breach was so foreign for the first part of the book and I was fascinated by it. I devoured the end of this book because I was so excited to hear about the people and places that could exist between these strange cities. The description of the Breach headquarters fascinated me. How could the people of Beszel and Ul Qoma both unsee such a large building? So mind blown.

The beginning of the book frustrated me. I was so confused as to what was happening that I wanted to throw the book. The murder scene was enough to keep me interested in the book despite this, but I wish Mieville could have used a news release or text-book entry as a prologue to explain the geographic problems of the city. I would have pulled out much less hair.

I think this book was about conformity and the greater good. The people conformed to a society with such ridiculous laws that our society can’t imagine them. Think of looking out your window, waving at your neighbor, and being arrested for crossing an international border. I’m glad Borlu stood up to this system and called it out for the tedious thing that it was. Borlu sacrificed a lot for the greater good of both countries by breaking laws and taking directions he probably should have let lie. I liked that he was a selfless character and that he overcame the adversity he faced to help the people of both cities. He was a very positive character and I’m not lying about how much I liked him.

Writer’s Takeaway: To anyone who ever told me to read outside of my comfort zone, thank you. I have to recognize the genius of Mieville in creating such a wonderful and well crafted story. I think I learned about establishing setting and how that can be important. When I read a book, I always try to figure out where it’s located on a map; find a place to point my finger. With this, I couldn’t and it frustrated me initially. My frustration was compounded by the situation. As I said before, I wish there had been a prologue or other device to warn the reader of the complicated setting. I would have been more intrigued from the beginning.

To average between my initial disappointment and ending raves, I’m setting for 3/5 stars on this one.

I’m not sure this counts, but I’m using the Ukraine as my location for this book on my Where Are You Reading? Challenge. From clues in the book, this seems a likely location for the cities.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City” | disillusioned marxist
Book Review: The City and the City (China Mieville) | Keep Watching the Words
[Column] The Backlog: The City and the City by China Mieville | Orange Monkey Publishing
China Mieville’s The City and the City | Plume of Words
Review: ‘The City & The City’ by China Mieville | LAURIE JANEY

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 30-April-2014

30 Apr

My number of in-process books is slowly going down. Slowly. It’s still a bit out of control. I’m glad MizB’s WWW forces me to deal with my obsession.
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve got one book more or less on hold right now. It’s The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which is a Goodreads First Read I’ve been wanting to get into for months now. I hope to power through it in a few weeks when the book club stack slows down.

On audiobook I’m back to listening to Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk. I think I’m getting close to the end on this one and I’ve really enjoyed it for the laughs.

I just started The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa for my book club. No report on it yet but I’ve heard it’s a fast read. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going but it’s starting to get interesting again and I’m excited to keep at this one. I think it will be well worth it in the end. I’ve also started The Maze Runner by James Dashner. You can expect to see this on my list for a few months because it’s my first Read-Along selection. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’ll have read Chapters 1-9 by May 10th.

Recently finished: Finished one book Monday and one on Tuesday! I’m so glad I can report something. I finished the audiobook for And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and a physical copy of The City and the City by China Mieville, which was a book club selection. Reviews coming… eventually!

Reading Next:  I want to re-read the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo so that’s next on my list. Sadly, no link to a webpage for it yet.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 23-April-2014

23 Apr

I’m always overwhelmed by my own post for WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can finish all the books I’m starting. Also, should I start including pictures? What do you all think?
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I feel like I’m adding more to this list than I’m taking off. I started reading The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which really excited me because I didn’t think I’d get to! This is a Goodreads First Read I got ages ago and haven’t been able to start. I’m only a little bit in and really enjoying it, but I’m putting it on hold because I’ve got a wave of book club books tumbling down on me. The first is The City and the City by China Mieville. Can anyone spell his name phonetically for me? I’m curious. It’s very science-fiction-y and that’s not usually my thing so we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good. On my phone I’m still working through The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going here. The story is good, but not grabbing me the way I hoped it would. I hope it picks up soon.

On audio I’m about half way through And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m sad to announce that I’m not as into this story as I’d hoped to be. I’m hoping it’s a slow start, but it’s dragging a little. I think part of it is the narrators. Two of them have such strong accents that it distracts from how much I’m enjoying the story. I still have Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and I’m really enjoying this option. It makes cooking funny.

Recently finished: I finished reading Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian on Friday. I adored the book, a full 5 out of 5 stars. I’m writing the review now and it should be up next week. I got tweeted by the author and it made my day!

Reading Next:  I’ll be starting two more books in the next week. The first is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa which is for my book club. It’s a short one so I’m hoping I won’t be held up on it for too long. The second is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This is the book chosen for my first Read Along With Me series. We haven’t started yet and there’s still time to join. There’s more information here and you can email me at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining us.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 16-April-2014

16 Apr

A couple of updates for this new installment of WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can keep up this reading pace!
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m getting toward the end of Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. The book was a little slow to start, but Bohjalian is a beautiful writer and it kept me interested through the long yet necessary exposition. I have another of his books waiting on my shelf. I’m hoping to get it autographed when I hear him speak on the 30th! I know I said I put Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk on hold but I’ve found time to listen to it while I clean or go on walks and it’s a nice thing to listen to at those times because it’s so darn funny. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is keeping me entertained on my phone. It’s going slowly, mostly because I read during breakfast only. And if I have to wait at the chiropractor. But mostly breakfast. I’m really excited to say that I started And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m lucky enough that I got to hear Hosseini speak when I was in school and he is such a wonderful person and writer. I have a ton of respect for him and I’m really excited to read this book! I’ve heard wonderful things.

Recently finished: I finished the audiobook for The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. The review should be up next Tuesday, barring any emergency that might arise. I give it a 4/5.

Reading Next:  I might have time to squeeze in an ARC book, but probably not. Book club timing is pretty tight between my two groups. The next one up is The City and the City by China Mieville which sounds like a trippy science fiction. Jury’s out on how I’ll feel about it.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

As a reminder, if you’re interested in doing a Read-Along, please respond to this post. There’s a poll where you can vote on what book you’d like to read. I’m closing the voting at 5 PM today (Eastern time). Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

WWW Wednesday, 9-April-2014

9 Apr

Being a part of MizB’s WWW Wednesday has really encouraged me to keep reading at a break-neck speed!www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: Last night I was finally able to pick up Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian. This is the next book for my book club and I wanted to pick it up right away, but had another book to finish first. I’m only 12 pages in, so no assessment yet. On audio book I put Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk on hold. I was able to listen to a little while I was cleaning the other day, which kept me in a good mood while I vacuumed. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith is my main audiobook focus. I’ve been listening on the way to and from work (as opposed to just on the way home as I normally do). I’m scared my next hold is going to come in before I finish it. These are my real problems. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is keeping me entertained on my phone. It’s going slowly, mostly because I read during breakfast only.

Recently finished: I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson last night! When I drafted this and realized I had no finished books to report on I was devastated! I’m glad I can report some progress today. Look for a review next week.

Reading Next:  As much as I want to read one of my own books, it will probably be a book club book. The next one up is The City and the City by China Mieville which sounds like a trippy science fiction. Not normally my cup of tea, but we’ll see how it goes.

That’s it from me. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog! Until next time, write on.