I wanted to read this book for more than one year, but every time I considered it was not the right time. It seemed big (not that big, 345 pages, but I read it on Kindle so I never quite know), it seemed heavy and depressing. Why, then, did I add it to my TBR list? I had enjoyed Kindred tremendously, and I’d loved Octavia Butler’s short stories, as collected by the Library of America. And Parable of the Sower was on my radar ever since the beginning of the pandemic.
The New York Times has a very recent full article on Octavia Butler: The Visions of Octavia Butler, with visually stunning 3D creations (I guess it’s beyond the pay wall, but please give it a try if you can).
In 2020, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, many readers turned to Butler’s 1993 novel “Parable of the Sower,” which details the journey of a visionary and headstrong teenager, Lauren Olamina, set against a California landscape besieged by climate change and socio-economic crises — so many readers, in fact, that the novel appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, a first for Butler, fulfilling her stated lifelong dream 14 years after her death.
The Parable of the Sower is a very bleak book. It’s hard to pull away from it, but it is also very scary, because there’s so much we can find parallels to in our current world. The setting is 2026 and the USA are breaking down as a result of climate change and rarefaction of resources amplified by political graft. The wealthy are (still) relatively protected but the rest of the country is disintegrating into violence and survival of the strongest. This book should have plenty of trigger warnings.
My heart broke for Lauren Olamina more than once over the course of the book! It’s the first in a series, but I feel that I can’t really read it further for a long time. It is so very American that this apocalyptic book also takes the time to focus on an emerging religion. I don’t think a European or Asian writer would have had the same approach. For me, it was rather distracting from the main story, but I can understand that Lauren, the daughter of a preacher, would need some ideology to build her grit and energy upon. She and the other characters, barely left alive after the collapse of civilization, are all believable (in a painful way)
I totally understand how people would have read this in 2020 with dread, and even more in 2022 with the Russian attack on Ukraine. The idea that social order an political landscape are stable and eternal is dissolving, but I hope we can do something to prevent The Parable of the Sower to become too much of a reality.