That dystopian fiction need not be confined to the developed world.
April 6, 2015 1:24 PM   Subscribe

"Why the hero of my YA dystopian novel had to be an angry young Indian girl." [Guardian Books]
Laxmi Hariharan challenges the domination of dystopian western worlds in teen novels, why not a dystopian Asia or Latin America? And how it’s time for the stereotype-busting Angry Young (Indian) Girl to claim centre-stage.
posted by Fizz (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oooh I read Born Confused years ago.

As an Indian-American woman, can I just say that everyday life in India for indian women seems fairly dystopian. I know I had to quit hanging out with the Indian-American crowd where I am in the US, because the fallback behavior of the dudes, even those raised here, older dudes even, smacked of behavior that was extremely disrespectful to Indian-American women. And it was somehow okay with the Indian-American women.

So there's lots of relatable and infuriating material to draw from nearly whenever Indian men decide to exercise their entitlement, so deeply ingrained in the culture. No kidding.

The angry young Indian woman character is way overdue.
posted by discopolo at 1:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Not to deter from Laxmi Hariharan's essay or her championing of more diverse YA fiction but if anyone is looking for SF but of a more Indian flavour, I highly recommend reading River of Gods by Ian McDonald.
posted by Fizz at 1:40 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought we'd established that SF&F was supposed to be written by and for white, straight, cis, english-speaking, middle aged men, no? Was all the hard work by Torgensen in vain?
posted by signal at 2:04 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


First paragraph into the first link (her story of riding the Mumbai metro to school), and all I can think is: how can one not be an angry young Indian girl?
posted by kanewai at 2:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is great! I have been searching for books for myself and my 10yo son, books with diverse voices. There are several links on the guardian page to other articles dealing with diversity in children's lit.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:47 PM on April 6, 2015


how can one not be an angry young Indian girl?

By living an extraordinarily privileged and sheltered life. The experience gap among individual students, even within the same age group in a relatively elite private school, never ceases to surprise me. I think they should all be enraged. And then I find out that many of them live in a cocoon upon which rage-inducing events do not intrude.
posted by bardophile at 2:50 PM on April 6, 2015


This is my problem with the term "dystopia". All it means is basically not a utopia and that's pretty much everything. When people use the term "dystopia" to describe a situation worse than the current world then they tend to ignore the fact that the world is already quite dystopian at different levels of dystopia. William Gibson even said, when the world of his Sprawl trilogy was called dystopian:

"Well, maybe if you’re some middle-class person from the Midwest. But if you’re living in most places in Africa, you’d jump on a plane to the Sprawl in two seconds. Many people in Rio have worse lives than the inhabitants of the Sprawl.

I’ve always been taken aback by the assumption that my vision is fundamentally dystopian. I suspect that the people who say I’m dystopian must be living completely sheltered and fortunate lives. The world is filled with much nastier places than my inventions, places that the denizens of the Sprawl would find it punishment to be relocated to, and a lot of those places seem to be steadily getting worse."


That's from the Paris Review.

So, yeah, what discopolo said above, it's already quite dystopian for Indian women. It's also dystopian for quite a bit of the population. In one slum in Mumbai, there is "roughly one toilet per 170 people." Dystopia is a terrible word as a noun since it seems to imply that the normal world is pretty much utopian when it's just varying levels of dystopian. Utopia just seems to mean that there's no more room for improvement but so far all I'm seeing are various levels of dystopia. Life is pretty good for some of us but even for those of us priveleged to live in relative comfort, that comfort can come crashing down at any moment. Uhm, I think I'm rambling now. Point being that, yeah, the word "dystopia" is very weird.
posted by I-baLL at 2:58 PM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


how can one not be an angry young Indian girl?

By living an extraordinarily privileged and sheltered life. The experience gap among individual students, even within the same age group in a relatively elite private school, never ceases to surprise me. I think they should all be enraged. And then I find out that many of them live in a cocoon upon which rage-inducing events do not intrude.


The demands on women who are privileged are awful in their own way. There's so much victim-blaming perpetuated by our parents, and explicit warnings that if something happens, we will be found at fault and responsible. The "What will people say?!" starts at a young age and is a really cutting and manipulative way to regulate our behavior.

It fucks a lot of young women up. They tolerate a lot of abuse from men. There are Indian men taught that indian women are dispensable, disposable, and replaceable, and I've personally witnessed them acting on it.
posted by discopolo at 3:04 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


The "What will people say?!" starts at a young age and is a really cutting and manipulative way to regulate our behavior.

Watched this with my mother and my sister growing up and even as an adult living on her own, my sister continually has to push back on limits and these prescriptions that my mother has in her head for the "proper" way a young Indian woman should be. It's very frustrating for my sister sometimes.
posted by Fizz at 3:06 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dystopia is a terrible word as a noun since it seems to imply that the normal world is pretty much utopian when it's just varying levels of dystopian. Utopia just seems to mean that there's no more room for improvement but so far all I'm seeing are various levels of dystopia. Life is pretty good for some of us but even for those of us priveleged to live in relative comfort, that comfort can come crashing down at any moment. Uhm, I think I'm rambling now. Point being that, yeah, the word "dystopia" is very weird.

Utopia doesn't exist. It's a not-place -- that's what the word literally means. When Thomas More coined it, he meant a wonderful place that didn't exist. Dystopia means bad-place. Probably the most recognized example is 1984. It is a horrible place that doesn't exist.

Neither term negates wonderful and horrible things happening in the real world, even things that are major aspects of those utopias and dystopias portrayed in literature. That is why we have them -- to point out what is wonderful and horrible about the wonderful and horrible.

Gibson, being his usual wise self, points out that both utopia and dystopia are very much relative terms.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:12 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dystopia is a terrible word as a noun since it seems to imply that the normal world is pretty much utopian when it's just varying levels of dystopian. Utopia just seems to mean that there's no more room for improvement but so far all I'm seeing are various levels of dystopia. Life is pretty good for some of us but even for those of us priveleged to live in relative comfort, that comfort can come crashing down at any moment. Uhm, I think I'm rambling now. Point being that, yeah, the word "dystopia" is very weird.

Especially since the original (Thomas More's) Utopia, even if it had existed, was itself pretty dystopian from most modern points of view. From Wikipedia:
"Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour. Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Other significant innovations of Utopia include.... premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery..."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can I put in a strong recommendation for Sangu Mandanna's The Lost Girl? Because I thought it was great.
posted by jeather at 4:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The demands on women who are privileged are awful in their own way. There's so much victim-blaming perpetuated by our parents, and explicit warnings that if something happens, we will be found at fault and responsible. The "What will people say?!" starts at a young age and is a really cutting and manipulative way to regulate our behavior.

I would modify that just to say that the demands on them can be awful. I'm not sure this (the demands, victim blaming, etc) holds true as a broad generalization for the young women I'm thinking of.
posted by bardophile at 4:15 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a YA dystopian novel about my high school. The protagonist was also a girl.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Girl Who Owned A City! Yeah! Loved it as a kid Ironmouth! Spent years as a kid hunting for nonexistent sequels :(
posted by triage_lazarus at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2015


Ironmouth! I've been trying to remember the title of this book forever! We had a copy in our elementary school library and it was quite terrifying but memorable (well, the story, but evidently not the title).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:32 AM on April 7, 2015


I-baLL: "This is my problem with the term "dystopia". All it means is basically not a utopia..."

That might be its etymology, but that's not the same as its meaning.
The meaning of the word is well known to everyone in this discussion, including you, and it's not useful to muddy the conversation by pretending you don't.
posted by signal at 8:04 AM on April 7, 2015


"That might be its etymology, but that's not the same as its meaning.
The meaning of the word is well known to everyone in this discussion, including you, and it's not useful to muddy the conversation by pretending you don't.
"

Uhm, what? How am I "muddying the conversation" and where am I "pretending" that I don't know the meaning of the word? And what meaning of the word are you referring to? Did you miss the whole point of my comment?
posted by I-baLL at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a big 'what the hell' about post-apocalyptic Glen Ellyn. I would assume the Glenbard South kids would invade and attempt to murder all the stuck-up Glenbard West kids just before Glenbard north would ravage the countryside Genghis Khan style.
posted by Dmenet at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2015


I have this same problem with the term Post-Apocalyptic. With fiction set after a general, global, societal breakdown, there will be a gradient of experiences and 'Post-Apocalyptic' as a term doesn't express that diversity of experience, as apocalypse means (roughly) a revealing, and without the context (revealing God's will), it really doesn't get the end-of-times thrust that we've laid on it: it feels more like a single event with the details to be filled in later. Armageddon, as a reminder of what happened on the hill (har) of Meggido in the 15th century BCE, works better, but it suffers from the same problem in reverse, namely, that the context of the word is not commonly known. As a term to describe a period that only sees itself in terms of the culture that was lost (The Walking Dead, or other such disaster-porn), this works fairly well, but in cases like the savage realms of Mad Max or the dry hydrocultures of Interstellar and Young Ones, a separate understanding of the world has begun to take hold; these settings look around themselves and to the future as much as to a past that they cannot reclaim.

I like Paolo Bacigalupi's use of the terms of 'contraction' and 'expansion' his novel The Windup Girl, because it really gets at that sense of continuum: for a brief while the scope of human experience was greatly extended from it's evolutionary norm. It didn't happen all at once, nor for all populations in equal proportions, but it happened, peaked, and is now (at the time of the fiction) is regressing to the norm, again, not all at once, nor for all populations in equal proportions, but that is the general direction.
posted by eclectist at 9:49 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uhm, what? How am I "muddying the conversation" and where am I "pretending" that I don't know the meaning of the word? And what meaning of the word are you referring to? Did you miss the whole point of my comment?

You claimed that "All [dystopia] means is basically not a utopia and that's pretty much everything." Which is not accurate. Dystopia and utopia are extremes and the real, modern world largely belongs to neither category.
posted by psoas at 12:22 PM on April 7, 2015


"Dystopia and utopia are extremes and the real, modern world largely belongs to neither category."

Dystopia as an extreme is weird because how extreme do you need to go before you can call something dystopia? A massive surveillance state would've been considered dystopian before but now that we know we're living in one does it remain a dystopia? Dystopia seems to work better as a scale than a single concept since the goal posts for "extreme" will always keep moving. Dictionary.com defines "dystopia" as: "a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. " That really does sound a lot like a lot of parts of India. It also sounds like a lot of the current world. It's different levels of dystopia, yes, but that's why I raised the point that "dystopia" is pretty meaningless since the goal posts will always be changing if you call it an "extreme".
posted by I-baLL at 1:31 PM on April 7, 2015


I-baLL: "Uhm, what? How am I "muddying the conversation" and where am I "pretending" that I don't know the meaning of the word? And what meaning of the word are you referring to? Did you miss the whole point of my comment?"

You say: "This is my problem with the term "dystopia". All it means is basically not a utopia and that's pretty much everything."

It doesn't mean 'basically not a utopia'. It means 'an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.' or something like that. That's its common meaning, and the way the word is used by everybody else in this conversation except you. I doubt you are actually ignorant of the meaning of the word. Your definition is made up, and only serves to muddy the conversation by trying to make it about your made up definition instead of anything of substance.
I understood the whole point of your comment, but felt it was based on a disingenuous premise. That was the whole point of my comment.
posted by signal at 2:34 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a big 'what the hell' about post-apocalyptic Glen Ellyn. I would assume the Glenbard South kids would invade and attempt to murder all the stuck-up Glenbard West kids just before Glenbard north would ravage the countryside Genghis Khan style.

Actually the HS kids are all dead at that time. Plauge kills everyone over 12 years old. So North is not gonna do nothing.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:49 PM on April 28, 2015


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