One of my life list goals is to read at least one book by every author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I had read a handful of the winners prior to making this goal, but Doris Lessing is the first Nobel Prize winning authors I’ve read since.
Lessing was born in 1919 in what is now Iran to British parents. She grew up in Zimbabwe and many of her books deal with or are set in Africa. She now lives in London (and is 92!). Her first book, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950, and dealt with race relations in colonial Zimbabwe. Her best known title is The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, which dealt with male-female relationships and was an influential feminist work.
The book I read was Mara and Dann: An Adventure, published in 1999, which is a science fiction book set in a distant, dystopian future in Ifrik (Africa). Mara and Dann are small children when they are rescued from their home and begin their journey north. The South of Ifrik is being consumed by drought. Water is incredibly scarce and life is trying and dangerous. An adventure is definitely a good description of the book, because so much happens over their long (15 years or so) escape. As with many of Lessings’ books, this one deals strongly with gender relations, especially surrounding conception, pregnancy, and child rearing, which the protagonist, Mara, portrays as a constant fear – not just of the violence of rape, but of getting pregnant and the disadvantages that result from that when trying to escape the drought, with children dying all the time, and with the knowledge that a woman is fertile making her more valuable (as a person to kidnap) in a time of infertility and falling birthrates.
I enjoyed the book, in particular the idea expressed of a more primitive future, which is something I hadn’t really considered. We always think of progress as marching ever forward, but life in Ifrik is definitely less advanced than in our time, which is something that is really discussed in the novel. The idea that this future world knows that in the past people were more advanced, and had greater technologies (solar panels, trains, airplanes), the knowledge of which has somehow been lost. This primitive future isn’t idealized however – there is still war and death – it is just different. I don’t read a ton of science fiction, but I do enjoy how it makes me think about things differently. There is a sequel to this book, which was published in 2005, which I will be interested to read at some point.