The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant. Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby's origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.… (more)
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Part 1 of the book is really tedious to get through. The story, told entirely from Cedar's perspective, is in the form of a diary/letter that she is writing for her unborn child. But she just prattles on and on about things that I don't necessarily care about. I did appreciate reading about her inner turmoil about her present situation, as well as the glimpses of the unease that was settling in around the country as people tried to get a handle on this devolution situation. But I wish there had been more of that. I wanted more instances of devolving, more of how everyone was researching this phenomenon, and the rationale behind herding pregnant women in and taking their babies. There was this time when Cedar decides to go visit her birth parents, which was interesting ... but it felt very disconnected with the things happening around her.
Part 2 of the book was more interesting because there was a lot more action, and a lot less philosophizing. Again, the focus was on the pregnancy rather than the environmental changes but at least it was fast-paced and filled with fervor and action. This was the dystopian thriller aspect that I had been promised and I enjoyed it immensely.
But then came Part 3, and it was more of the same of Part 1. There's very little that actually happens and just more talking and musing. Gone was the survival mode that I had enjoyed from Part 2. It was very difficult for me to finish this last part, because I just couldn't care. The ending of the novel was also extremely disappointing for me, because nothing was resolved. In a sense, this ending would probably have been a great segue or introduction into how things are set up in The Handmaid's Tale. But I don't think that was what the author had in mind.
There were 2 main reasons that I was really upset about this story. One is that I really didn't like Cedar. She is an aloof character, making it hard to connect with her. Even though more than half of the book is her talking about her thoughts and opinions, I never actually felt like I understood her. One minute, she is talking about religion and God and DNA, and then she's going on about how she must survive and her survival skills flit in, and then they just disappear and she goes back to philosophizing. None of it was useful, none of it was insightful. It just bogged the story down. The second thing I didn't like is that the different parts did not come together to create a cohesive story. Part 1 and 3 should be grouped as one thing because of their whole theme of literary fiction, and Part 2 should be the actual dystopian story.
Overall, I found this to be a vague story about a situation where we somehow end up reversing evolution, and for some reason this means that all fertile women must be rounded up and made to give birth. There was too much of a literary component to this story that didn't add anything substantial, and too little uniqueness to the dystopian story. It was disappointing. I'm giving it a 1.5/5 stars, and that's only because Part 2 had some adventure to it.
The plot is so strong, the story so well told, that I set aside all my doubts about the plausibility of it all.
The book is a journal, a series of letters by mother-to-be Cedar Songmaker to her unborn child, describing her attempts to evade capture, to find her own birth family, to find a place of refuge, and to make sense of what is happening.
While reminiscent of Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, this a fresh, moving reflection on the natural rights of all of us & speaks to the disturbing changes we see taking place in our own world.
Told in epistolary form, Future Home of the Living God is the story of one woman navigating the rapidly-devolving world as best she can while maintaining the safety of her unborn child. No one knows the reasons for the reverse evolution, how it originated, how far back in time organisms will go, or how to combat it. Thus, as the number of homo sapiens babies born to pregnant mothers dwindles, society begins to retract around those women who literally hold the future of the human species in their bodies. The problem is that this is done in true dystopian fashion – misinformation or a total lack of information, abuses of power, threats, incarceration, bribery, and more all done in the name of Christian values and the promise of a better life and protection for women of child-bearing age.
Cedar is writing all of this to her unborn child as a way to establish a record of the fall of civilization and a way to clarify her own thoughts during this tumultuous time. Because it is Cedar’s story, the focus is on those things that interest her. Since she expresses very little desire to understand what and why is happening, we don’t learn much about what is happening beyond her sphere of influence. Instead, we watch as she works out who her family is and what they mean to her. We see her meet her biological mother for the first time. We are alongside her as she sets about making a nest with her baby’s father. We are with her as she confronts hard truths about her adoptive parents. We are by her side as she waits in the hospital and wonders what is going to happen to her baby. This allows you to connect to Cedar on an intimate level as she comes to grips with what is happening to her, to her child, to her family, and to the world at large.
What follows is a somewhat spooky, definitely surreal, and surprisingly suspenseful story as Cedar races against the clock to keep her unborn child from the government’s clutches. As with any good dystopian novel, she makes new friends, finds surprising allies, and discovers who is willing to ignore their values when times get tough. We also discover what it means to be a family as Cedar’s predicament brings together biological and adoptive parents.
In such an unusual story, Ms. Erdrich’s writing skill comes to the fore. Her ability to set the tone with one careful sentence means readers never forget what is happening outside of Cedar’s world. The more forceful reminders of the ongoing changes are downright chilling when viewed in the context of what they portend for the world. Ms. Erdrich is able to bridge the gap from present and familiar to future and foreign through her beautiful but efficient writing.
Most of Future Home of the Living God is bleak. Cedar has no doubts that non-homo sapiens babies born in the hospitals or government-run facilities do not last long. Nor does she have doubts as to her future prospects should she be caught. The last scene in particular is rough. Yet, you finish the novel with a feeling of hope. It is a marvel of storytelling that you end the story feeling hopeful that humanity and all of nature will find a way to adapt and survive the new norm, that people will continue to resist injustice and persecution, and that compromise is possible. You take this feeling with you as you reenter the real world with its doom-and-gloom headlines filled with hate and denial. More importantly, you keep this feeling long after you turn that last page. Because of this, and so much more, Future Home of the Living God not only lives up to Ms. Erdrich’s reputation and surpasses it.
This is a splendid story blending science fiction with Native American life with the science fiction being ever present but in the back ground of Cedar's story told in journal form as she writes her feelings to her unborn child.
Cedar was adopted, as a baby
Yes, dystopian stories, with all the usual tired tropes, have been played out these past few years but, like Station Eleven, this novel finds a spark of originality and the creepy tension that Erdrich builds throughout the story, keeps the pages turning, with just enough crafty humor to alleviate the grimness.
I quite enjoyed her latest novel and it fits in well, with our current political environment, but like, The Handmaid's Tale, the future is not very rosy.
**The audiobook is excellent and Erdrich does a stellar job narrating.
Cedar was adopted. She
Once back home, with talk of apocalypse on the horizon, Cedar stocks up on necessities and adds cigarettes & booze to trade. When she goes for her first ultrasound, reality sets in. A kindly, attending doctor allows her to escape, warning her to tell no one she is pregnant and to hide.
News stations are being blocked or run by the government. Robotic broadcasts tell nothing, but give warnings as “people are out in the streets, demonstrating against not knowing what they should be demonstrating about.” There are mumblings of reverse creationism. That time has reached its end and will now roll backwards. No one is quite sure to what. After so many pages, it’s getting annoying. Cedar “knows” something is wrong with her baby, but how? One sonogram that showed nothing? She writes of her despair, yet divulges nothing. Nor does the author. Were this not our book club selection, I’d stop right here, page 68, and leave them all to muse over the peril no one knows exists. But I read on.
The child’s father, Phil, arrives with a warning to Cedar that they, the powers that be, are looking for her. She has not been able to reach her parents and a strange woman keeps appearing on her computer. Communications break down and public abductions of pregnant women are taking place. What newscasts there are, call for all pregnancies to admit themselves. For safety. But against what? Phil protects her as best he.
Animals begin to mutate. Supplies dwindle. People form communities. No one knows who is safe anymore.
Then they find her. She is alone when taken. They place her in a room with another pregnant woman who wasn’t alone, but irreversibly is now. And then she too is gone. Irreversibly. Happy pills and facade-faced nurses attend and restrict. But there are resisters. Her old mailman slips mail into her robe, an outlaw nurse works to free, and both sets of parents plot.
A harrowing series of events follow, such that I will not spoil your experiencing them. Cedar continues her journal to her unborn child. Always writing, a virtual escape.
I admit, this book scares me. Not so much the sci-fi aspect, but everything else. Every. Thing. Else.
Best line is from Cedar’s postman, Hiro, who was pivotal in her safety, when asked “How come you’ve looked after me?” he simply replies “You were on my route.”
Most endearing line is from Cedar to her unborn child. “I am your home
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Although encouraged, I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
It is Cedar's story we follow, sometimes through letters written to her unborn child, as she attempts to navigate this new world order. A world, where using the basics of The Patriot Act, the new government is able to spy on anyone at anytime, using drones and newly developed technology. A person called Mother, appears on television screens, now that nothing else is made nor shown. It is through Cedar that we meet the few other characters in this story.
A strange world, but as Erdrich tells it, an all together believable one. Her descriptions are a marvel, beautiful and strange at the same time. The combining of the elements, cultural, political, and personal, amazingly wrought. This is Erdrich, stretching her wings, or less poetically stated, her writing skills and it made for entertaining reading. Maybe, also a warning, but not without some infused hope. Marvelous.
Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the book’s narrator, is four months pregnant when Future Home of the Living God begins, and her narration takes the form of a written diary in which she directly addresses her future child just in case she does not survive the baby’s birth. When pregnant women start to be arrested on the streets and whisked away to secret facilities, there is good reason to believe that this is precisely what will happen to Cedar and that her child may only ever know her from that diary. Then when authorities begin actively searching for pregnant women – and when society begins to crumble all around her – Cedar knows that she has to do more than stay out of sight. People around her know that she is pregnant and they know where she lives.
Cedar, however, has something that most people do not have: two supportive families, an adoptive one and a tribal one - and both of those families are willing to risk their lives in order to protect Cedar and her unborn baby. As a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, everyone involved wonders how it will all end. Is it only a matter of time before the conspirators will be discovered and themselves arrested or will they all be able to blend back into the general population in just a few months? When Cedar is captured and taken to a special hospital, it appears that she and her baby are not destined for a happy ending.
Future Home of the Living God, published in 2017, is a reflection of the times in which we live, a period during which women feel that their reproductive choices are being threatened in ways that may or may not be exaggerated, and that of course makes the novel even more terrifying than it otherwise would have been. For good reason, this one will remind readers of both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and PD James’s The Children of Men. In my estimation it is every bit as powerful a novel as either of those, and it should not be missed.
(I recommend the audio version of the book read by the author. She is the perfect reader for this one.)