The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord.
The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord. Random House, 2013.
GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR
A superb speculative novel about humans with different genetic make-up and culture learning about each other and finding ways to cooperate.
I absolutely loved this book, but I am at a loss as to what to say about it. Part of its appeal was the ongoing puzzle of what was happening in its unknown time and space. We learn gradually, just as Lord’s characters learn about each other and themselves and what is possible for them. There is little I can say that won’t seem a spoiler. Another part of my dilemma is that somehow, the whole of the novel is greater than its parts. I can’t describe this or that aspect of the novel—its descriptions, characters, plots—as exceptional, but I was totally mesmerized by it.
Here’s just a bit of orientation. The novel takes place on an imagery planet in an imaginary time. The characters are all humans, but from various other planets, including earth. Depending on their ancestors’ origins, individuals differ in both culture and genes. The main character is Grace Delarua, a young woman civil servant, who gets involved in a year-long research project along with people from another planet. Their planet has been destroyed and part of the goal of the project is to help them find others somewhat like themselves. The story revolves around the research group’s adventures and interactions.
But of course, there is much more woven into the narrative about difference and understanding. Characters negotiate their conflicting needs for closeness and distance, the needs for dependence and independence. The book’s title comes from Candide in which Voltaire displays that the best of all possible worlds is simply unattainable. Lord would agree and her planet is far from being totally safe and happy. None the less, her characters do seem to reach out for a way to live together that allows for each to make unique contributions to a larger whole. They make the best out of what is possible.
Karen Lord is from Barbados and has worked in a wide variety of international jobs, before making a name for herself as a writer. Her first novel was Redemption in Indigo, which I enjoyed enough that I was thrilled to find her new book Netgalley. I find her a captivating writer.
I heartily recommend this novel to those who love speculative novels about intelligent and insightful people.
See my review of Lord’sRedemption in Indigo.