Review: Amatka – Karin Tidbeck

35110377My Rating: 3/5

Date Read: 8 July 2017

Verdict: Brilliant premise, weak character development.

Find it on Goodreads

Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.

In Karin Tidbeck’s world, everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by a captivating new voice.

That was weird. Seriously weird, but oddly fascinating, but with an ending I found unsatisfying. My thoughts are all over the place for this one, so here they are first in list formate and then a bit more elaborated.

World building


Set in the not specified future on I assume different planet, this books reads very much like a classic dystopian novel in the style of Ray Bradbury or George Orwell. The main character, Vanja, arrives in Amatka with the order to do some kind of market research on hygiene products as commercial production has been legalized and her employer wants to know how to sell more stuff to this colony. As she falls in love with her housemate Nina, she decides to stay in this barren place even though things seem odd to her.

The main premise is stunning in its originality (at least it is to me) – things have to be named repeatedly and be marked because otherwise they dissolve into some kind of goo: so a table has a sign saying “table”, doors are labeled “door” and so on. Citizens have to be constantly vigilant lest they lose important possessions. This makes for an interesting social structure where nothing is permanent and in reaction everything is rigid and unchanging. Karin Tidbeck uses this disorienting juxtaposition to paint a very vivid picture of the world she created. I absolutely adored this part.

The characters on the other hand never truly came alive for me. Their reactions are always left mostly unexplained and I had a hard time connecting with them. Especially the love story between Vanja and Nina made very little sense to me – and never understood what they liked about each other and what made Vanja especially abandon her previous life with hardly any second thoughts.

Ultimately, I think this book works best if you study it and analyse it and discuss it with others. There are so many layers that could be talked about and so much to think about, that a casual reading does not do it justice. As it stands, it kept me at arm’s length and I never felt fully engaged with the characters.

First sentence: “Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two, Informant assistant with the Essre Hygiene Specialists, was the only passenger on the auto train bound for Amatka.”

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

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