Title: The City Where We Once Lived
Writer: Eric Barnes
Publishing House: Arcade Publishing
Date of Publication: March 6th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Sometimes, at night, I would light houses on fire. But noone particularly cared.’’
I thoroughly enjoy the power that Dystopian Fiction has acquired of late. The vast majority of the books under this category are exemplary and even the few duds have something to offer. I cannot help but firmly believe that when all else fades, books can show us the way and through the influence of quality Literature we’ll come to hear the tolling bells a little more clearly. However, there are times when a book like this one terrifies me. And the reason is simple. There are stories that are highly relevant to our times. If we subtract the speculative factor, we’ll discover that the situations described can apply to any society in humanitarian, financial or social crisis. This is when the implications become brutally honest and the thoughts terrifyingly alarming. This is Barnes’ The City Where We Once Lived.
‘’Nothing grows here’’, I finally say. ‘’Nothing grows at all.’’
The time and place of our story aren’t clear. In fact, they’re irrelevant. The future doesn’t seem distant at all, the setting could be anywhere. The USA, the UK, Russia, Germany, it doesn’t matter. We know that a devastating climate change is currently at large. The weather has become a murderer. Tornadoes and violent storms cause thousands of fatalities on a daily basis. Trees are scarce, the soil is sterile. Nature has started taking revenge for all the rapes inflicted on her by the human race. And a man lies at the centre of the story, trying to find a way either to change the inevitable or simply to survive.
‘’If you wanted to be a part of the world, why would you be here?’’
The land has been divided into the North and the South End. The North End is a ghost territory, a place forgotten, neglected, a corner that the state would prefer vanquished. The government, along with the majority of the population, have moved South and only two thousand people have chosen to remain. Our main character is a journalist without a name, struggling to retain some traits of the world he knew using pen, paper and an old camera. His story is one of tragedy and loss as he tries to fight on and survive. He discovers that newcomers have started inhabiting the once abandoned sectors and, gradually, refugees from the South End arrive and the narrator’s will for personal survival becomes a fight to keep the North End alive and safe.
‘’They should know what was done to people like us. And they should never forget that either.’’
Along with the journalist, we meet a gardener, a minister, scavengers and a mysterious young woman with her son. Her presence is a source of light and hope, a glimpse of a possible future. Each character does his best to exorcise the demons as more issues begin to threaten whatever stability they have formed in their present lives. The fear of civil unrest is tense. Security tests fill the ghost city with the nightmarish sound of the air raid sirens. The South End is plagued by mass hysteria and in the North End teenagers are turned into thugs.
The writing is exceptional and the questions Barnes poses are hard. What do we accept as ‘’normal’’? What are the limits and boundaries we are willing to surpass and break in order to survive? To what extent can we grow accustomed to a form of life that actually resembles a prison? How do we react when apathy culminates in violence fueled by injustice and discrimination? Barnes is undoubtedly talented. The narration is strangely beautiful, in a style that I find hard to describe accurately. While I was reading, I had the feeling of a world covered in mists, its veil momentarily lifted to reveal glimpses of a life that once was or to give way to a harrowing spree of desperation. You have to dig deep into the layers of this story. Don’t expect ‘’action’’ in the traditional sense of the word, you won’t find it here.
Yet, hope still remains after all the pain and anger. It’s just that there are certain wounds that are impossible for anyone to heal….
‘’Maybe they can make a new life. A new self. A new world in which all is different. All is better. But I’m not sure.’’
Many thanks to Arcade Publishing and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.