Book of the Month – The Book Of Joan
Lidia Yuknavitch gives us a glimpse into a future that could very well be ours in her post-environmental catastrophe sci-fi novel, The Book of Joan.
The Book of Joan is a reimagining of the medieval story of Joan of Arc that takes place in the not-so-distant future— 2049. The environment has been damaged beyond repair, and the world enters a state of chaos and war resulting from limited resources. Amongst all of this exists Joan of Dirt, who as a child discovers she has special powers connected to the earth.
Warfare reaches such intensity on Earth that children are being used as soldiers in battle. Joan comes to a realization: the future will be nothing but endless war. Unable to live with this, she uses her powers to make the earth uninhabitable for human life. But somehow, she survives and lives in hiding underground on Earth, and becomes a symbol of rebellion amongst what’s left of humankind.
Members of Earth’s former ruling classes escape Earth to inhabit a suborbital complex called CIEL, ruled by a former self-help guru turned celebrity, Jean de Men. The lack of natural elements in this environment causes their bodies to evolve in unexpected ways— they lose their hair, skin loses its pigment, and their genitals evolve into nothingness, leaving them essentially genderless. But somehow, Joan’s body doesn’t change, adding an additional dimension to the book.
Amongst CIEL’s numbers is Christine Pizan, a clever reimagining of medieval feminist poet Christine de Pizan who wrote the only popular piece of work about Joan of Arc in her lifetime. In an act of artistic defiance against Jean de Men’s police-state, this version of Pizan feels a compulsion to burn the story of Joan into her skin with an art called skin grafting, one of the few ways of expression left on CIEL. Her story is connected to Joan’s, as we will eventually realizes.
Exploring feminist and environmentalist themes, the Book of Joan bears relevance to the world we live in today. Celebrities-turned-politicians, climate change, and the female body are all touched upon filling the reader with fearful apprehension for the future. It demands we take responsibility for the way we treat nature and its bountiful gifts in a way that stays with you beyond the book. It leaves you profoundly worried where the human race will end up if we don’t take a good hard look at the way we live— and soon.