A timely novella with a powerful thematic punch, Neuvel's (Only Human, 2018, etc.) latest is set in a dystopian future where immigrants seeking citizenship in England must pass a harrowing test.
Originally from Iran, Idir Jalil is a dentist living in London with his wife, Tidir, and two children. After months of studying, Jalil shows up at the local immigration office to take the British Values Assessment test. If he passes, he is a citizen. If he fails, he and his family will be immediately deported. But only minutes into the test, terrorists storm the building and hold all the office’s occupants at gunpoint. After an unruly man is shot in the leg and Jalil instinctively goes to help, the kindhearted dentist is targeted by the terrorists. The leader picks two hostages from the crowd and forces Jalil to decide which one lives and which one dies. His inability to make a decision dooms both people to death. Soon afterward, he is asked again with two new people. With his wife and children in the crowd, Jalil realizes he may soon have to decide whether his wife or children die. Powered by a relentless sense of tension and an undertone of psychological horror throughout, readers will find themselves living vicariously through Jalil and struggling with every gut-wrenching decision. If you were forced to kill either your spouse or your child, what would you do? And would you want to live in a society that forces you to make such a decision? Obvious political commentary aside, the questions Neuvel asks readers are simple yet profound: What does it mean to be human? Is one person’s life less valuable than another’s because of ethnic, religious, or socio-economic differences? Is the true nature of humankind fear and hate or love and acceptance?
Thought-provoking and disturbing. A cautionary tale illuminated with dark enlightenment.