- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Kim Stanley Robinson, author of award-winning novels like the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars), Icehenge, and The Wild Shore, has written one of the most ambitious novels in decades in The Years of Rice and Salt, a book that is breathtaking in scope, chillingly timely, and profoundly powerful. Although it's billed as an alternate history of mankind's last 700 years, it is so much more than that. It's about religion, fate, and the human spirit. It's about the meaning of life. Why are we here? Is there a god? Is the soul eternal? Does it all really matter?
The story begins in the 14th century, as the Black Death is spreading throughout Europe. But instead of killing approximately one-third of the population, this time the plague destroys almost everyone: 99 percent. Civilization is wiped out, and Europe becomes a forgotten wasteland. There is no Renaissance, no Industrial Revolution, and no colonization of the New World by the British and French. Christianity and Judaism are all but forgotten. Buddhism and Islam become the world's two major religions.
Bold Bardash is a Mongol horseman who has witnessed the plague firsthand. Utterly alone and barely able to find enough food to keep himself alive, Bold wanders aimlessly until he is captured by Turkish Muslims and eventually sold as a slave to Chinese traders. While sailing back to China in the largest ship Bold has ever seen, he meets a black slave boy named Kyu. During the trip, the boy is made a eunuch, and only Bold comforts the boy as he struggles to survive the horrific ordeal. Once in China, the two fatefully work together in a busy restaurant, where Bold learns more about local culture and Kyu plots revenge against the entire Chinese Empire.
After Bold and Kyu experience life to the fullest and eventually die, their souls go back to the bardo, where they await reincarnation. The deeds of their past lives help decide who (or what) they return as. In each incarnation, the two try to improve themselves and the world around them, with varying levels of success: Chinese revolutionaries, an elderly widow and a poor monk, a Native American Indian chief and a clan matriarch, a tiger and a pilgrim, a Chinese naval captain and a young island girl from the other side of the world…
The Years of Rice and Salt (a term coined by Chinese women in wealthy households, signifying the busiest times of a women's life: raising children, taking care of elderly family members, managing servants, etc.) is a truly visionary work. Kim Stanley Robinson shows us what could have been, and what could still be. Will humankind ever get it right? Or are we destined to make the same mistakes over and over again? (Paul Goat Allen)