Afterland by Lauren Beukes

4/5 stars

Look, I’m not 100% sure why I decided to read this book right now either.

Afterland focuses on Cole and her son Miles, who ended up stranded in the US after a…. *coughs* global pandemic shut down the country’s borders and they are desperate to return to their native South Africa.

Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. This isn’t a rushed-out Covid response book (if you want those, oh boy is the British publishing industry delivering)–this was actually written before Covid kicked off and has some distinct differences from our current hellscape. Instead, Afterland explores the aftermath of a virus called HCV that decimated 99% of the male population in three years. Cole’s son, Miles, appears to be immune, and after the death of Miles’ father, they’ve been living in government quarantine while the world is under a strict accord to pause reproduction until a cure is found.

Basically, this is less a Response To The New Normal (TM) book and more a feminist take on the post-apocalyptic road trip narrative. Despite the fact that they catch the virus during a family reunion in Disneyland.

I know literally no one wants to think about post-apocalyptic anything right now (for the record, I am writing this the morning of 4 November, trying to pretend that all that happened last night was that disaster of an ice cream cake challenge on Bake Off), but Lauren Beukes is a talented writer with a real gift for balancing action and poeticism. Cole and her sister Billie play very well off each other, and though I’m usually not a huge fan of child narration, Miles is charismatic and keeps this from being an all-out bummer. Honestly, what’s refreshing about Afterland is that it doesn’t depict a world in complete collapse–this all-women society is finding ways to function, with re-skilling and re-working to create a new reality, all with the lingering commentary that maybe some things are better without men around.

This also really makes me want to search out more South African fiction–Miles’ identity as a biracial teenager who calls Africa home (with an African-American father who lived in South Africa with them before passing away) adds a lot of substance, and the explorations of how Cole and Billie’s upbringing in a country marred by its colonial past influenced their actions in the narrative. There’s substance here that you’d struggle to find in a lot of other books of its type, and even though it’s, um, probably not the best time, this one is worth adding to your list for a more optimistic future–it has to be somewhere.

Bookshop.org is a great, easy way to buy your books–each purchase supports indie bookstores across the UK. If you’re gift shopping, why not consider a Bookshop.org e-gift card?

And no matter where you are in the world, Blackwell’s is a great independent option with international shipping and competitive prices.

Leave a Reply