“History is a silent record of those who did not know when to leave”.
In a time where “Stop the Boats” is chanted across Europe, Paul Lynch writes 300 beautifully devastating pages and reminds the “Western Society” that what is happening in another part of the world (news we come across while scrolling our newsfeed) can happen anywhere and any time even in Northern Ireland. Because, why not?
And then he makes the reader wonder what if it is the other way around and the people who want to stop the boats end up crossing borders and seas seeking refuge? What would they chant then?
Lynch imagines a dystopian future in Ireland where a new government takes control and sets new laws. At the core of this book there is Eilish; a mother of four and a loving wife whose husband disappears, her son joins the revolution, and who has to deal with her father who is having early symptoms of dementia.
A mother who is trying to keep the family together and as you read you become Eilish. You feel her burden and you feel her desperation. She is trying to keep her house routines in the middle of bombs and bullets (drop the kids at school, manage the bickering between siblings, etc...) all the while waiting for her family to become whole again.
Where other dystopian authors failed (1984, Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World), Lynch has outdone them by creating a central memorable character, Eilish, who touches your heart, makes you feel her sorrow, loss and pain, her struggle to keep her life going on and her connection to her sons, daughter, husband and father.
What we remember from the other novels are ideas more than characters; what we remember here is a flood of emotions (horror, maternal love, struggle of youths) amid bombs and war and scary ideas as well.
Lynch describes the war between rebellions and the state in a detailed manner that annoys the reader, it feels as if he has been through it and if you grew up in countries where war visited you for a few years, you will be amazed by how well Lynch depicts the fear and confusion.
The novel is built in blocks, with long paragraphs and no spaces. It wants to you to feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed and claustrophobic. It wants to awaken your empathy and ask you to look around you.
One major question is asked several times across the book and many times it is left unanswered: Why did you not leave?
Why do we stay? Is it because we do not want to leave? Do we not have the means? Or maybe we cannot leave leave? Is it a mother waiting for a husband who disappeared? Or is she refusing to leave her dad who has dementia and doesn't wish to separate him from his memories? A very powerful question that keeps floating in Eilish’s and our minds!
Paul Lynch ends with a very beautiful sentence: “To the sea, we must go to the sea, the sea is life.”
Finally, In an Interview, Paul Lynch states that: “I was aware while writing this book that I was addressing, in part, a modern problem: why are we in the West so short on empathy for the refugees flooding towards our borders? Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. To understand better, we must first experience the problem for ourselves. And so I sought to deepen the dystopian by bringing to it a high degree of realism. I wanted to deepen the reader’s immersion to such a degree that by the end of the book, they would not just know, but feel this problem for themselves.”
Read this scary book! It is essential, for maybe we regain some part of our human understanding and humanity.
Reviewed by: m.h.moustapha