The Core Of The Sun by Johanna Sinisalo (book review).

December 13, 2016 | By | Reply More

I’ve read several translated novels during the past year and, one thing I’ve come to realise is that, although the location, language and customs may be different, the ingredients of a great Science Fiction novel are just as indefinable. ‘The Core Of The Sun’ is the first Finnish novel I’ve read but, once again, it has proven to be a fabulous book and the fact that it is a translation is just one part of its charm.

I was very quickly drawn in to both the setting and the plot of this book, the strange alternative Finland that Johanna Sinisalo has created and the stressful, secretive life led by the main character, Vanna. Women have been bred for several generations as ‘femiwomen’, to be subservient, uneducated and fixated on marriage and childbearing. Women who don’t conform to this ‘ideal’ are sterilised and set to manual labour. Vanna is intelligent and educated, but to survive in this totalitarian society she must dress to please and act like a vapid, attention-seeking femiwoman.

The main plot is divided between two strands, following Vanna’s youth on her grandmother’s farm via a series of letters to her missing sister that recount various incidents and her later life in the city. Interspersed are children’s stories, instructional lectures and excerpts from documents that illustrate the warped views of this society and the official policies that justify the way things are for the good of humanity. Some of these are based on actual historic research and theories and they combine to make a frighteningly plausible society, one in which the individual arguments and theories make some kind of sense until you realise the ultimate result to society and to women when they are enacted wholesale.

Woven throughout the plot is the illicit trade in chillies, the only vice still available to the unscrupulous following a decades-long prohibition on alcohol, drugs and restrictions on unhealthy foods such as sugar. Vanna is a capso, addicted to the physiological effects of the capsaicin in chillies, always searching for the next fix and a hotter chilli to help her cope with the loss of her sister and the stress of her clandestine existence. Coupled with the mellifluous descriptions flavoured by her synaesthesia, the entire story takes on a wondrous and captivating air.

It’s a well thought-out society that Johanna Sinisalo has developed, allowing the frighteningly plausible society to explain everything. The attitudes of mascos, the masculine men, as well as the Authority and the ditzy femiwomen all tie together. The ban on technology and other vices of the decadent democracies, explained by the Authority as being for the good of their health, mean that even the rebellious chilli traders and cultists have no real idea about the outside world. The Gaian cult that Vanna becomes involved with are attempting to breed the world’s hottest chilli, the Core of the Sun, to attain spiritual enlightenment. To a chilli addict, like Vanna, this might be one temptation too much in her attempt to cope with the darkness within her. This multi-layered text and complex personality draw you completely in to Vanna’s world and her woes and keep you addicted to the very end.

Gareth D Jones

December 2016

(pub: Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press. 320 page paperback. Price: $16.00 (UK), £13.34 (UK). ISBN: 978-161185-537-1)

check out website: www.groveatlantic.com/

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Category: Books, Scifi

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