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The Core of the Sun

The Core of the Sun

3.0 1
by Johanna Sinisalo, Lola Rogers (Translator)

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From the author of the Finlandia Award-winning novel Troll: A Love Story, The Core of the Sun further cements Johanna Sinisalo’s reputation as a master of literary speculative fiction and of her country’s unique take on it, dubbed “Finnish weird.” Set in an alternative historical present, in a


From the author of the Finlandia Award-winning novel Troll: A Love Story, The Core of the Sun further cements Johanna Sinisalo’s reputation as a master of literary speculative fiction and of her country’s unique take on it, dubbed “Finnish weird.” Set in an alternative historical present, in a “eusistocracy”—an extreme welfare state—that holds public health and social stability above all else, it follows a young woman whose growing addiction to illegal chili peppers leads her on an adventure into a world where love, sex, and free will are all controlled by the state.

The Eusistocratic Republic of Finland has bred a new human sub-species of receptive, submissive women, called eloi, for sex and procreation, while intelligent, independent women are relegated to menial labor and sterilized so that they do not carry on their "defective" line. Vanna, raised as an eloi but secretly intelligent, needs money to help her doll-like sister, who has disappeared. Vanna forms a friendship with a man named Jare, and they become involved in buying and selling a stimulant known to the Health Authority to be extremely dangerous: chili peppers. Then Jare comes across a strange religious cult in possession of the Core of the Sun, a chili so hot that it is rumored to cause hallucinations. Does this chili have effects that justify its prohibition? How did Finland turn into the North Korea of Europe? And will Vanna succeed in her quest to find her sister, or will her growing need to satisfy her chili addiction destroy her?

Johanna Sinisalo’s tautly told story of fight and flight is also a feisty, between-the-lines social polemic—a witty, inventive, and fiendishly engaging read.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Finnish author Sinisalo (Troll: A Love Story) spins a dystopian tale in her latest. The novel opens in a cemetery, where an illegal transaction of capsaicin, the ingredient in chilies that gives them their heat, is underway; Vanna meets an unknown seller to get a sample of the product, which she tests by shoving it into her underwear. What kind of world bans spice? In a series of personal accounts, letters, dictionary entries, and excerpts from “historic” source materials, we learn that life in the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland is dictated and controlled by the Health Authority, which unlike the European Decadent states bans substances for the supposed health of its citizens. It also divides its citizens into sexual hierarchies. Elois (the terms are borrowed from H.G. Wells) are females who have been bred for their beauty and submissive traits; only they (as opposed to morlocks) are legally allowed to reproduce. Despite the various sources, the heart of the story belongs to Vanna. Born in Spain and raised on a farm along with her beloved sister, Manna, by Aulikki, their grandmother, after their parents’ death, Vanna looks like an eloi but her intelligence and curiosity make her something else, a secret that Aulikki helps her protect. When Manna’s mysterious death drives Vanna to addiction, she joins with Jare, a former farmhand on the property, to sell chilies. Being an eloi makes a good cover, but the Authority appears to be closing in on the whole underground, including a cult that prizes chilies above all. Sinisalo is at her best when describing the action; she makes you feel the heat of those chilies, but relies a bit too much on letters from Vanna to her sister for exposition. Still, this is an unusual and fun story with a strong dose of social commentary. Agent: Elina Ahlback, Elina Ahlback Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Core of the Sun:

“Johanna’s Sinisalo’s dystopian The Core of the Sun is a stunningly evocative novel about the great literary theme of identity, brilliantly rendering the complex struggle between society’s norms, our innate personal qualities, and the transformative substances of the physical world. Sex, drugs, and bureaucracy: what could be more compelling?”—Robert Olen Butler, author of The Empire of Night

“Meticulously imagined . . . the novel creates an impressively detailed and extremely frightening world. Written with wit and grace . . . Maintains an impressive grasp on plot and suspense, easily luring the reader into taking its characters, politics, and striking story to heart.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Smooth writing and nicely calibrated pacing . . . [Sinisalo] ups the ante with well-paced and eerily fitting facts about the history of science, clever literary narrative, and complex characterization. This tale will appeal to dystopia lovers and fans of darkly offbeat suspense.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Sinisalo is at her best when describing the action; she makes you feel the heat of those chilies . . . An unusual and fun story with a strong dose of social commentary.”—Publishers Weekly

“By making them into state laws, Sinisalo unveils the rules by which discrimination functions—and in doing so, makes them laughable.”—Die Welt (Germany)

“Johanna Sinisalo’s best novel since the Finlandia Prize-winning Troll: A Love Story . . . Her literary punch in the guts is delivered with skill and force . . . The story inhabits the same sphere as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood . . . Sinisalo demonstrates her mastery of rhythm.”—Helsingin Sanomat (Finland)

“An intoxicating book, sizzling to look at and as spicy as a hot pepper.” —Weltexpress (Germany)

“Sinisalo creates a world so close, and yet so far, with small, often subtle twists . . . [The Core of the Sun] is a fun, feminist, political novel—as tasty as a strawberry habanero chili sauce.”—Deutschlandradio Kultur (Germany)

“Johanna Sinisalo’s satire is bitingly on-target . . . The image of a country where the Health Authority decides what people require is pure black humor—it would be hilarious if it weren’t so frightening. Sinisalo is a social critic, but her writing is very tangible, appealing to the senses. It makes for a unique reading experience: highly immersive, almost breathtaking . . . Sinisalo demonstrates that ‘weird’ is never very far from everyday reality.”—Books from Finland

“Johanna Sinisalo’s Core of the Sun is a vicious satire. A dark dystopian novel that is nonetheless filled with humor, and inspired in its language.” —Die Rheinpfalz (Germany)

Library Journal
The Finlandia Award-winning Sinisalo (Troll: A Love Story) pays homage to H.G. Wells's The Time Machine with this tale of a Finland populated with allusive elois and morlocks. Where Wells's story suggested these races evolved into being, though, Sinisalo invents primary sources detailing the fascistic breeding of two types of women, reproduction-worthy elois and sterilized morlocks, and their free-to-be-boys male counterparts, mascos and minus men. Finland's resulting "eusistocratic" society also severs ties to "decadent democracies" and bans controlled substances all in the name of a healthy society. Unsurprisingly, this cultivates rampant patriarchy, misogyny, and to the delight/vexation of the heroine Vanna/Vera, a unique drug culture fixated on acquiring ever-hotter capsaicin from chilis, including the titular Core of the Sun, suspected to be the key to mind-blowing transcendence. Sf, fantasy, and New Weird readers will revel in the elegantly blurred lines of science and mysticism. Readers seeking a reliable, strong, female narrator won't be disappointed. VERDICT The plot points on reproduction will inevitably bring Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to mind, but the narrator's funny, sad, punk voice could fit right in to the stories in Kelly Link's Get in Trouble and is as unforgettable.—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.
School Library Journal
Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and borrowing expressions from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, yet set in contemporary Finland and uniquely thrilling in terms of voice, plot, and characterization, this dystopian newcomer offers meaty food for thought about what is worth sacrificing to make a "good society." This heartbreaking story of two teenage sisters who were formerly close will resonate with young adults. One, Manna, conformed to her society's rules, but now is missing. The other, Vera, successfully hid the traits that her society considered flaws—her intelligence and her synesthesia. Now she relies on the capsaicin fix she gets from illegal chili peppers to stay sane as she tries to find her sister. It is becoming increasingly dangerous for Vera to stay in Finland, but she can't leave without knowing what happened to Manna. The disjointed storytelling style may challenge some readers, but others will appreciate the way the parts all come together in the end. VERDICT A discussion-worthy addition in a classic novels curriculum, this offering also makes for good recreational reading.—Hope Baugh, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-10-07
Finnish author Sinisalo (The Blood of Angels, 2014, etc.) creates a dystopian near-future Finland where women are subjugated to the demands of men by a chilling system of law and eugenics, all in the name of promoting a placid, healthy, and successful society. Closed off from the "hedonistic" and "decadent" democracies of the outside world, Finland employs a draconian policy of prohibition—alcohol, cigarettes, and even chili peppers are banned as illegal substances—and a disturbing program of gender division in which a submissive, intellectually stunted, and blandly beautiful subrace of women called "elois" is bred and trained for the sexual pleasure of men and procreation. Women with curiosity and intellect are labeled "morlocks," sterilized, and forced into lives of crushing labor. When Vanna, a morlock raised by her formidable grandmother to pass as an eloi, needs to help her docile sister, Manna, pay for the expenses of a wedding, she falls into the seedy world of the illegal chili pepper trade, aided by Jare, a friend who both knows and exploits her secrets. They ally themselves with a religious cult that believes breeding an impossibly hot chili will unlock spiritual salvation, and Vanna, a capsaicin addict herself, struggles with the competing desires for the bonds of family and independent rebellion. Narrated in sections that alternate between Vanna and Jare, interspersed with letters and meticulously imagined fragments from magazines, ads, and scholarly articles, the novel creates an impressively detailed and extremely frightening world. Written with wit and grace—Sinisalo describes depression as "a smooth-walled cavity, an open, echoing cave with a darkness living in it deeper than the space between the stars"—the novel maintains an impressive grasp on plot and suspense, easily luring the reader into taking its characters, politics, and striking story to heart.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

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Meet the Author

Johanna Sinisalo is the author of the novels Troll: A Love Story, Birdbrain, and The Blood of Angels. In addition to the Finlandia Prize, she has won the James Triptree, Jr. Award. The Core of the Sun was nominated for the Tähtivaeltaja (“Star Traveller”) Award. Sinisalo’s works have been translated into nineteen languages. She lives in Tampere, Finland.

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The Core of the Sun 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
19269684 More than 1 year ago
"Masco: I am eternally grateful that I got caught and the Health Authority rehabilitated me. I'm also grateful that the awful, nasty stuff is illegal now. Capsaicin addiction is forever -- you can't ever get away from it -- but now I have a life worth living. (Meaningful pause) In clean pants..." The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, is unlike any book I've ever read. Set in an alternate, Finnish, dystopian future (actually most of the journal entries/letters are set in 2016), Vanna is looking for her sister. She's a woman forced to pretend she's a socially acceptable, useless woman (Eloi) hiding in a world of dignified, infertile ignorants (Morlocks) while dealing with a chili pepper addiction that's a major offense against the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland. Through flashbacks, journal entries and letters to Vanna's sister, Manna, in a world fashioned from H. G. Wells' Time Machine along with eugenics, (a word I learned from Wayward Pines). Women are either Eloi, who are considered ignorant but capable of being molded into perfect, domesticated companions, who will have babies, serve up meals and take care of home or Morlocks- the ones who are infertile, too smart for their own good and rebel-rousers! Vanna is the latter... * For the full review: http://bit.ly/2bbHSAb **Book is from my personal library, for an honest review.