When Sannah the Storyteller, a descendant of environmental refugees from drowned Pacific islands, finds a White stranger on her domestep, she presumes he’s a political prisoner on the run seeking safe passage to egalitarian Aotearoa. However, Kaire’s unusual appearance, bizarre behaviour, and insistence he’s a pilgrim suggest otherwise. Appalled by apartheid Australia, Kaire uses his White privileges to procure vital information for Sannah and her group of activists regarding new desert prisons that are to be built to house all political prisoners. The group plans sabotage but needs help, and Kaire is a willing accomplice. But when Sannah turns Truthteller and threatens to reveal the country’s true history, even Kaire’s White privilege and advanced technology cannot save Sannah and her daughter from retribution.
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Sue Parritt’s Sannah and the Pilgrim is the first title in her climate fiction trilogy. (It is followed by Pia and the Skyman and The Skylines Alliance.) Australia and Aotearoa (the former New Zealand) have been ravaged by drought. The coastal plains have been inundated by rising sea levels. The ‘Whites’ of Australia, although impoverished by today’s standards, hang on to power through apartheid. They force the ‘Browns’, mostly refugees from drowned Pacific Islands, to labour on the little arable land that’s left. We see this entirely plausible future from the point of view of a resistance movement, the Women’s Line, as they endure dangers to help the serfs held in the underground prisons to escape over to what we hope will be a better life for them in Aotearoa. (Pia and the Skyman takes up the story from the bases on Aotearoa.) Sannah, “The Storyteller”, belongs to the Women’s Line. A light skinned stranger calling himself Kaire arrives at her dome and she must consider if he is a spy. The twin mysteries of Kaire’s origins and Sannah’s purpose in “storytelling” drive along the narrative. Kaire’s background when revealed gives us another viewpoint of the conditions on the planet. But we have to wait until Pia and the Skyman to see if his seemingly higher moral ground is based in the end on any better construct of human possibility and endeavour. As with all resistance movements, nobody quite knows who else is to be fully trusted. Missions are planned and after excruciating buildups of tension go wrong in some way. We have escapes by desert and by sea, rescues, betrayals, brutalities and passions. Yet Parritt’s low key writing makes this stark way of life seem almost normalised, which makes it all the more disturbing; and the wreckage of not just the planet but of humanity springs out at us.
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite Sannah is a storyteller. She tells stories to her people, stories sanctioned by the government to be acceptable propaganda. Her stories are meant to educate her people into subservience. Her people are brown skinned and live in the Brown Zone. The government, the powers that be, are white. The Brown Zone is a desolate landscape where survival is a daily struggle in a land in which daylight is too dangerous and life and working hours now exist primarily at night. This is, after all, the twenty-fifth century and the planet has undergone a lot of strife: wars, global warming, all the threats that humans of the twenty-first century listened to, but only barely. Enter Pilgrim Kaire. He's a traveler, a white traveler at that, but not from another country. Actually, he's from a sky ship, a completely different group of humans trying to survive after Planet Earth's multiple catastrophes that made life on Earth very difficult, if not impossible for many. As Sannah learns from Kaire, so too does Kaire learn from Sannah. The two evolve together in their knowledge until Sannah becomes the truthteller, and, at her final trial confesses the truth that she has learned about her planet, that "Greed, arrogance, concern for profit rather than conservation, apathy, egotism — these are some of the words my people hear in Truth-Tales." It's a complicated story that intertwines the realities and threats of the twenty-first century, along with the ever present prejudices, with the possibilities of a future that looks even more bleak. Author Sue Parritt, in this her first book, has created a colony of storytellers and truthtellers, a parallel to life on Earth in the twenty-first century. It is a compelling tale and readers will certainly be eagerly looking forward to the sequel.