Brace yourself: The end of the world is coming. Or is it? A multilayered, Indigenous-inflected version of the apocalypse that resists predictability.
Calliope Santiago is an anthropologist and a young mother heavily pregnant with twins the day the Earth changes forever. As she’s driving home from her job as a professor at the University of New Mexico, there’s a blinding flash, and Calliope crashes her car. When she comes to, everyone else is gone, rapture-style. Well, almost everyone—Calliope’s 6-year-old neighbor, Eunjoo, also remains, inexplicably. The two flee Albuquerque, where long-dormant volcanoes, newly awakened, are burying the city in molten lava, and head for Calliope’s aunt’s hacienda in the Gila Mountains to the south. On the way, Calliope and Eunjoo amass an unlikely crew of fellow left-behinds, each with his or her role to play as their odyssey unfolds. The author of several poetry collections, first-time novelist Givhan employs Southwestern Puebloan mythology to inform the plot—as when Kachina dolls come to life as the monstrous and deadly Suuke, half-gods, half-monsters hell-bent on destroying Calliope and her companions. Givhan also makes contemporary connections, as when she invokes Kennewick Man, the ancient skeleton discovered in Washington state in the 1990s, and refers to the years of controversy between scientists, the U.S. government, and Native American tribes before the remains were eventually repatriated. Another character, Mara, who’s the partner of Calliope’s missing aunt, witnessed the birth of the atomic bomb in the 1940s when her father was sent to Los Alamos to work on the top-secret Manhattan project. Mara often links the nuclear terror of her childhood and the rending they’re witnessing near the end of her life. Givhan’s themes are complex and occasionally compete with the twists and turns of the plot for a reader’s attention. Still, texture and nuance are rare among disaster narratives and are welcome here.
A testament to the strength of women and girls with a side of philosophy, myth, and metaphysics.