There are books that you read which change how you think about the world. There are also books that write about subject matter and issues far ahead of the trends. Svaha by Charles de Lint is both of those for me… altering the way I think about our environment and a true dystopian tale written some 20 years ahead of the current bandwagon.
Svaha, a Native word for the moment between seeing the lightning and hearing it’s thunder or the waiting for promises to be fulfilled, is an incredible tale set not to far into our own future. Thanks to the fame and fortune of a single Native American musician in the 1990s who invested in the education of his People, the “Clavers” as they are called by the rest of the world, became the most technologically savvy race on the planet and withdrew into Enclaves of their own design after New York and Lost Angeles were destroyed by terrorist warheads and the rest of society began to crumble. By the time the Food Riots hit Europe, Russia and the United States had collapsed after a limited nuclear exchange and Japan had claimed Canada, there were 12 Enclaves across North America, two in South America, two in Australia, one in Africa and one in Siberia as well as 3 space stations owned by the Native Nations. These united tribes withdrew from the Outer Lands to preserve what they could of Mother Earth while everything else fell into chaos and a huge gulf between what the rich and the poor could afford emerged.
The story begins in the endless sprawl of the Toronto-Quebec Corridor where the “plexes” offer safety to the wealthy and the squats are the home of those who are just struggling to get by. Beyond this tenuous hold on civilization lie the Wastes where bands of radiation poisoned humans prey on whatever or whoever are foolish enough to wander into the barren territories. Gahzee has been sent on a one-way mission from his Enclave to find out why one of their flyers has gone missing and to ensure that the computer chip with its advanced technology and closely guarded secrets, does not fall into the wrong hands. Along the way, he discovers that perhaps Dreamtime and Realtime are not as far apart as they once seemed. Can the ancient knowledge of his people reach out to those in need of hope? Will he find a new tribe among these strangers or a new band of enemies against which to fight?
Svaha is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I made the mistake of loaning my original copy to a friend after it was Out-of-Print. When this edition was released in 2000, I bought it the minute I saw it to fill the void on my shelves. After reading it again as part of this challenge, I made my oldest daughter read it to compare to the current slew of dystopian novels we’ve been devouring. Like me, she found it hard to put down, engrossing and thought-provoking to read and satisfying in how well the story ended. The blend of Japanese culture and language with the Native philosophy was even more appreciated since our visit to Tokyo last year.
If you have never read this incredible book, it should be on your bucket list! I hope that some of the younger readers out there will discover there are tales told over 20 years ago that deserve as much attention as the “newest” ones they read right now.
Paperback format, 300 pages, originally published in 1989 by Ace Books.
First Orb edition by Tom Doherty Associates November 2000 ISBN 0-312-87650-5