Challenging Society with Speculative Fiction // The Wall

The Wall. Challenging Society Through Speculative Fiction.

The Wall ties together many elements of speculative fiction, with superb worldbuilding, and analysis into real-world political and legal issues. The pacing is slow and thoughtful. Rather than being an action-packed dystopian novel, it brings forward questions about our existence and what we’d do for change. This book isn’t as strong on its character development, but I’d recommend it to people who enjoy thematic speculative fiction.

The Wall by Gautam Bhatia

Mithila’s world is bound by a Wall enclosing the city of Sumer—nobody goes out, nothing comes in. The days pass as they have for two thousand years: just enough to eat for just enough people, living by the rules. Within the city, everyone knows their place.

But when Mithila tries to cross the Wall, every power in Sumer comes together to stop her. To break the rules is to risk all of civilization collapsing. But to follow them is to never know: who built the Wall? Why? And what would the world look like if it didn’t exist?

As Mithila and her friends search for the truth, they must risk losing their families, the ones they love, and even their lives. Is a world they can’t imagine worth the only world they have?

For fans of Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall and Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed comes an astonishingly powerful voice in speculative fiction that explores what it means to truly be free.


Review

This book takes place within the city of Sumer, a city surrounded by an impenetrable wall. No one knows what’s beyond the wall, and no one can leave. It was created by the mysterious Builders thousands of years ago, supposedly in punishment of human transgression. The city is self-sustaining, and despite some re-emerging conflicts, it has remained mainly content in its isolation. Mithila, the protagonist, is the leader of a group known as the Young Tarafians, whose aim is to remove the wall, to leave the city. But the peace hangs on a fine balance; challenging the ‘truths’ of the world could change everything, and change is a frightening thing.

This book analyses the way history, information, and truth is manipulated by the powerful, ruling class. One of the major factions are the Shoortans, they strongly believe in the necessity of the wall and have multiple techniques to keep the general population from questioning it. For one, they oppose written history, and destroy those histories that may contradict their beliefs. Oral history will change through time and meanings may become shrouded over the ages. The Shoortans rely on this to rewrite history to strengthen their philosophy. Of course, just as oral history can be easily manipulated, it can also spark a fire. The discovery of lost stories and meanings was an incredible aspect of this book. This ties in well with our reality, people in power will often twist events to further their agendas. ‘Truth’ is not well-defined as it seems, our own perspectives influence of understanding of events, and distorting power can be wielded against us without our realisation. The Wall highlights history and information as an important piece of political change.

I also enjoyed how The Wall discussed change. Mithila is one person, and yet her conviction may be enough to change everything. The Wall doesn’t simplify this into making Mithilia this all-powerful being. Instead, it shows us how simple acts can have large repercussions, how one raindrop can turn into a storm. Mithila is often brought into discussions about how Sumer is self-sustaining and content; why would she want to ruin that? Why would she want to potentially harm the city? The events of the book show us that the city is already facing heightened tensions. From farmers demanding they get a share of the food they create, to ominous natural events, to rising criticism of the caste system, marriage laws, and elite leadership; Sumer is on the precipice of change. These situations are not motivators for Mithila. She wants to destroy the wall because it exists. It is a barrier that limits her experiences, she longs for more than contentment. Change is a terrifying event that could bring everything down, but sometimes the risk is worth the fear of consequences.

Gautam Bhatia, the author of this book, is a lawyer, and you can see that in the in-depth legal considerations in the worldbuilding. It examines the laws and their creation: from overthrowing a violent ruler, to promises of change, to the protection of the status quo. Laws are weaponised against people to prevent them from gaining power. There’s even a courtroom scene! I love to see authors use their specialisations to add depth to the worldbuilding and thematic analysis.

Despite the brilliant worldbuilding and themes in The Wall, the characters were relatively weak. Mithila was the only character I felt like I truly understood. The character relationships weren’t well developed. Although I did enjoy the established sapphic relationship depicted very casually. I wouldn’t recommend this book to people who love character-focused reads because that’s not what you’re going to find here.

Overall, The Wall is a brilliantly thoughtful piece of speculative fiction, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. I’d highly recommend this to people who want to explore real-world issues through a slow-paced dystopian lens. I love how deeply the themes of truth, history, change, and law were intertwined with the worldbuilding and narrative in a nuanced, contemplative manner.

CW: violence, death, death of sibling, class based oppression

(Thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)


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