- Author: Karin Tidbeck
- Publisher: Vintage
- Published Date: 2017
What if language not only had power but was essential for the very bed on which you sleep? In Amatka by Karin Tidbeck (originally written in Swedish and translated into English by the author), we explore a society where naming things is essential to life.
I would describe it as soft New Weird meets Sci-Fi.
(I want to add here that this book does deal with mental health and depression as undertones.)
We are thrown into this strange world. However, we learn as we go. It is a relatively short book, and like the society, it is very methodical. We learn from the chapter titles alone that the days of the week have changed. Firsday, Seconday, Thirday, etc. I found this to be a subtle yet effective way of building the world.
There are 4 Colonies. There used to be 5. Everything about them is very methodical. Get up. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Come home. Adults and children do not live together. Too much contact with parents is bad for the kids as it makes them too dependent on the parents and less likely to be valuable members of the community.
Also, things need to be marked and named every once in a while, or else they’ll turn into this weird gloop. Is everyone ready to sing The Marking Song? Get your voices ready, kids!
The world is standout. It has an eerie familiarity to it. Everything seems like it’s great, but you slowly start to realize something’s not quite right. Exactly what happened to that fifth colony that just vanished, again?
There are also subtle things that help shape the world. For example, there’s the aforementioned days of the week. We also learn about the recommended hygienic practices, including for makeup, skincare, and personal hygiene (even “down there,” though not in any sort of graphic detail). Another small piece of information we’re shown are light rooms in order to help with depression.
The book is more about the world and how the characters interact in it. We follow Vanja, a young woman (probably late 20s, early 30s) who is from the colony of Essre. She has just been sent on assignment to the colony of Amatka in order to conduct market research on the people’s hygienic practices. Companies in Essre hope to expand their market and sell to the people of Amatka.
Vanja is not outspoken. She is a fish out of water when it comes to small talk. Her assignment is very odd for someone like her, and this is even lamp-shaded by her new roommate, Nina. Nevertheless, Vanja is determined to do her job right. She writes reports, conducts interviews, and tries to learn more about Amatka.
Then there’s Nina, who is outgoing and very personable. However, she is not afraid to argue if she believes it’s for the best. She lives with a man named Ivar, as well as a retired physician named Ulla. Ulla is a bit senile, maybe.
Ivar works underground in the mushroom caverns. He doesn’t like it. The community is too small to let him work somewhere else, though. The novel brilliantly shows how he slowly deteriorates throughout the novel. Ivar is a great example of how clinical depression doesn’t necessarily mean the person will be moping about 24/7. The fact that light rooms are such a common thing in this world also speaks volumes.
We also meet a few others characters with whom Vanja interacts.
I think the characters will be the most polarizing aspect of the novel. At first glance, they can come across as bland and a bit boring. Personally, I thought they were great. They fit the novel well. We see friendships and relationships grow. We see them upbeat and high on life, and we see them at rock bottom. This is not a novel that is focused on the characters, though. Like I said above, this one is centered around the world and the atmosphere.
Amatka is a book focused on society and its efforts to stay alive. The words we speak have power. The things we write have power. Do you want to change residency? You need to fill out a form. Do you want to have a bed next week? You need to name it. Bed.
It is about loneliness and isolation within a group. About being a part of something out of necessity — not because it’s truly where you belong. It is about living life to its minimum. And what type of life is that? It is about forming relationships and friendships. The book explores all of these things wonderfully.
This book doesn’t exactly wrap things up nice and tidy. Then again, life doesn’t always wrap things up nice and tidy either. With regards to the writing itself, I think people will either love it or hate it. It has a slow burn feel to it that I personally found to be page-turning. I read the book in one day in a couple of sittings. So if you’re in the mood for some 1984 meets (mild) New Weird, this is the book for you.