Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Ruth Francisco's "Amsterdam 2012": Book Review
I was offered a chance to read Amsterdam 2020, but then I found out this was a prequel, setting up the Eurabian War between Islamists and secular forces, and the American response to the conflict, as well as the pandemic that weakened much of the world in this debut novel. So, while you can find reviews posted earlier that in 2010 often belittled the premises of a hostile Muslim takeover overseas and a subtler integration of Muslim values and standards into much of urban America, five years on, the premises may not appear as far-fetched to some. The extrapolations of politics, the speed with which the riots and the collapse of much of Western Europe takes place may seem the stuff of fantasy, but as with the blitzkrieg and the Anne Frank comparisons throughout Amsterdam 2012, there are parallels that show Ruth Francisco has cleverly embedded historical predecessors for this blitzkrieg.
As for her writing style, it moves the story along in a "you are there" fashion. There is a tendency to tell rather than show, as so much is reported from a distance. Ann Aulis' narration, that of a young woman barely in her twenties, feels serviceable. (Some typos mar this, and it needed editing.) Living a few miles from her residence in Southern California, I liked the places and references that added local L.A. color. However, I did not feel that much a sense of the region in the novel, nor did I get much characterization outside of her immediate family. The story is told from her perspective, and she is understandably self-centered. Her maturation, as she is separated from her boyfriend, feels awkward, but this is not a surprise, given that disease, death, and altered sensibilities challenge all in this suddenly dystopian scenario. The adjustment to this, as she tells us, no matter how far-fetched, is however a wise touch, for it shows her ability to withstand pressure. I thought the Feds would be after her more, but she escapes less unscathed or monitored than seems probable, at least from what we know now of the NSA, data mining, and mass surveillance.
The conclusion needed more depth. The epilogue could have been its own sequel. It speeds up events and the pacing of the previous adjustments to a strange new life and society are thrown off. This may be Ruth Francisco's intention, but the change in the last few pages deserved space and time for it to unfold. Still, for those who may have read Robert Ferrigno's Assassin trilogy about a partially Islamicized America, or Michel Houellebecq's philosophical or louche Submission (all reviewed by me), this story may provoke reflection. (Amazon US, copy provided for review 1-8-2016. See my review of the sequel, Amsterdam 2020.)