Despite being a lover of books I can't say that I've ever read a six hundred page book before. They just seem intimidating and overwhelming. I'll admit when I first received Hao Jingfang's "Vagabonds" my first thought was..."what have I gotten myself into?" Despite my misgivings I hold myself to an ethical standard and because I received the book through a BookishFirst giveaway I felt honor bound to give the book a fair chance, read it, and review it.
I was shocked to see just how engaging the read it. It took me nine days of gradual reading to get through this text. I cannot wait to read it again.
"Vagabonds" is a slow burn book. It's engaging and intriguing, but its a read that you want to take slowly digesting it piece by piece. It doesn't require quickness. I typically will lose interest in a long book or feel anxious to finish and therefore begin to skim to finish a text. This book though I read bit by bit and was even sad that my experience was over when I finished.
The writing is exquisite. The imagery beautifully constructed.
And what a timely read for those in America at least. The general premise behind "Vagabonds" is a utopia. In this society on Mars is no money and everything is provided for the people. Everyone works for the betterment of society and for the love of creation. But as with most utopian stories there is a seedy underbelly. Mars and Earth have been in an uneasy truce for years. Mars freed itself from being an Earth colony some years past but still needs resources from Earth to survive. Part of the truce is sending Martian students to Earth to study.
The story begins as Luoying and her fellow delegates return from their period of study on Earth. Their time on Earth has changed them. They are not citizens of Earth, but they are also no longer fully citizens of Mars. With them are delegates (politicians and businessmen) from Earth who are presenting a month long fair to show off things from Earth just as they did on Earth to show off things from Mars.
The entirety of the story follows Luoying and Eko (a delegate from Earth- a filmmaker wanting to study the works of his mentor who lived on Mars for a time). Their stories intertwine, intersect, and ultimately influence the other.
Beyond the beautiful story and pictures the Jingfang fills her text with allusions to Greek mythology and other well known literary texts like "Don Quixote". As a lover of books I couldn't help but be thrilled to spot these little Easter eggs.
The comparison to Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" is absolutely dead on. Both books have this ethereal yet deeply pragmatic feel. Both speak to trends in modern society that left unchecked could prove disastrous.
This is quite possibly one of the best books I've ever read. I cannot recommend it enough.