In the aftermath of an environmental apocalypse, a family must make a terrible decision, the consequences of which will reverberate through the rest of their lives.
In French author Collette’s (Nothing but Dust, 2018) second book translated into English, half the world has been erased. For as far as 11-year-old Louie can see, the once-familiar valleys, towns, and even the closest neighbors have been inundated with water, the result of an apocalyptic tidal wave that has left him, his parents, and his eight siblings stranded on an island that used to be merely the top of a hill. At first the family’s survival seems miraculous, but the waters are still rising, and, as the land they perch on shrinks and resources become scarce, the parents know they must seek higher ground or risk drowning. The father estimates that with 12 days of hard rowing they can reach an area likely to still be above water, but, with only one boat, there will not be enough room to carry all the children and all the supplies they will need to survive the dangerous passage. The parents must make the devastating choice of whom to leave behind and settle on the three middle children, Louie, Perrine, and Noah, intending to return for them as soon as they reach land. At this point the narrative splits. On the island, the three children—ages 11 to 8—struggle with the implications of their abandonment as their supplies dwindle and the water continues to rise. On the boat, the siblings and the parents grapple with the consequences of their new identities as, alternatively, the ones who were chosen and the ones who were forced to choose. In tense, tightly controlled, and genuinely devastating prose, Collette explores the existential dilemma of pitting the good of the many against the good of the few with both nuance and great linguistic beauty. In a time when families across the globe are being forced to make very similar choices due to war, forced migration, and the depredations of climate change, Collette’s evocation of the human reality of this philosophical logic puzzle is a timely and fiercely excoriating narrative.
A wrenching exploration of the consequences of survival.