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Kakul Ehsan Butt

How High We Go in the Dark

By Sequoia Nagamatsu

Mild spoilers!

Told in a linear fashion, the story begins in 2030, with scientists discovering a neanderthal corpse in Siberia. Unfortunately, the corpse had died of a deadly virus, which becomes reactivated once thawed. Soon the virus spreads like wildfire, causing an epidemic across the world. The virus, known as Arctic virus, is highly contagious that causes the cells in the body to change form.

In each chapter, the timeline moves forward, either by a few years, decades, or a millennia. And in those chapters, characters are dealing with their realities. We come across a euthanasia park where parents take their sick children to die, to scientists creating artificial organs by using pigs as host, to businesses capitalising on death by offering grieving families robo-dogs that talk in the voices of their loved ones.

Towards the near end, we learn how climate change has severely impacted Earth, with some cities in the world disappearing below the sea level. In the latter chapters, selected human beings are travelling through space to find a habitable planet to populate. The story comes to a full circle in one of the final chapters, and it is what I’d like to call a big reveal. I liked the way in which the author had woven and linked all of the events and the characters together. As if everything had a place and purpose. It is not an easy thing to do, when dealing with an ambitious storytelling, but Sequoia Nagamatsu pulled it off.

It is a dark novel dealing with themes of death and grief, but also intimate stories of human connections. I am grateful that the author steered clear of sensationalist storytelling of the apocalypse and focused instead on human stories. This is where the heart of the novel is, in its human connections.

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