How High We Go In The Dark – Sequoia Nagamatsu

Published By: Bloomsbury
Pages: 304
Released On: 304

Beginning in 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic Plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet. 

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resiliency of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe. 

*****

*Contains full plot spoilers* – I try not to put spoilers in reviews, but it’s impossible to discuss this book without mentioning specific scenes, so only read this if you don’t mind reading spoilers.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

The idea of a world in crisis thanks to a virus is so very timely, considering the first draft was written just as the pandemic started. I’ve read many good books and interesting stories recently, but this was different. This was extraordinary writing, on par to some of the greatest classics.

I’m not a fan of using things like climate change as entertainment purposes, but Sequoia uses it so well. He isn’t throwing it down your throat or making it obvious, but it is a future we may all face in the years to come, and it will affect more than just our current livelihoods.

The link between the stories aren’t always obviously clear in the physical sense, instead their linked by the grief and the hardships and the love experienced by each main character. At first, it wasn’t clear if it was the same protagonist in each story – turns out it’s not – but this didn’t matter. If anything, it really showed that link between us all, connected through all time and space. They’re smart stories ranging from the uncomfortable near-future to the unrecognisable futuristic.

The concept of a euthanasia theme park for children is altogether fascinating but horrific. There have been times where I wish I could have helped put relatives out of their misery, but the idea of sick children being put on rollercoasters to stop their hears is too painful to dwell on.

The humanity of the pig story is also so beautiful but uncomfortable. There’s a lot of that in this book: uncomfortable, unusual, unacceptable, that are equally beautiful and heart warming and truthful. It’s everything wrong with the world, packaged up in a box. A box we’re trying to open and fix. Sequoia is holding our hands and giving us a tour of the hardships of life, keeping hold when it starts to get difficult.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, a positive for me is how freely death is spoken about. As a whole, humans (especially us in the UK) don’t talk about death, even when it’s staring at us in the face. It’s almost like we believe if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen. But in this book, it is openly discussed in the same way you may discuss your dinner plans or your next holiday, and I think that’s beautiful.

I tried to read this as slowly as I could, because I couldn’t bear the idea of finishing it – it was such a joy to read. It’s amazing how all the stories come back on themselves, emphasising the idea that we’re all linked, wherever or whenever we live.

This is such a smart novel but without ego. It is compassionate and honest and to me, Sequoia only wants to portray the heart and soul of the story. Forget about it being a work of art, or a shoo-in for writing awards. It is a book that means so much more to us. A book that reaches our hearts and sets up home.

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